Animal Assisted Therapies (AAT), Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), Animal Visitations and Pet Therapies are just some of the relatively new “applications” and growing disciplines based on employing animals interaction to improve human health and wellbeing.

Levinson’s research “The dog as co-therapist”, published in the US in the 1960s, is generally considered as the origin of AAT. Levinson suggested that a dog could be used as an icebreaker in therapy sessions to help communication with the patient and to help foster companionship and further emotional development. Since then, AATs have been the object of numerous studies in health care disciplines concerned with emotional well-being and quality of life.

The emotional and physical benefits of companion animals are now being established and there is well-researched evidence that shows spending time with animals can have a direct calming influence.

The more goal-defined therapy or specific intervention projects are usually considered as being Animal Assisted Therapy projects, rather than initiatives where the more informal contact with animals (that can be described as ‘therapeutic’) takes place: Animal Assisted Activities. However, in the UK there often seems to be confusion with some organisations considering animal care, petting and grooming as AAT rather than as a therapeutic animal contact experience and therefore AAA.

To find out more about AAT with patients with psychiatric disorders on green care farms

To find out more about Donkey Assisted Meditation

Health Benefits

Pet owners know that relationships with animals have many health, well being and social benefits. Benefits can be intuitively understood watching people bonding with, stroking and caring for a pet. Activities with the animals are generally carried out in nature, rather than in a clinical environment.

Whether it s a cat, a dog, a rabbit, a horse, a donkey… Stroking and grooming calm natured animals provides:

  • a sense of peace to anxious people,
  • lower blood pressure,
  • increase self-esteem, which improves their self-care,
  • participants feel more active and energetic.

It also reduces the feelings of

  • anger,
  • confusion,
  • depression,
  • tension,
  • fatigue.

Animal Assisted Therapies and Activities with horse and donkeys influence a patient’s confidence and feeling of pleasure by touching, stroking, grooming and giving verbal commands to the animal. The bonding relationship is characterized by warmth, empathy, trust, acceptance and elaboration improves communication skills and feeling of trust.

Studies show that horse and donkey therapies:

  • Help patients to become more aware of the surrounding environment, induced by the consistent reaction of the animal to patient’s actions.
  • The animals are gently proactive in stimulating people’s attention. These interactions allows the patient to engage his mind and to lengthen their attention span and focus.
  • Horses and donkeys provide positive acceptance and bonding with the individual, which significantly increase their confidence and self-esteem,
  • Higher self-esteem and confidence also leads to enhanced level of participation and enjoyment of the activity.
  • Higher participation and enjoyment builds a stronger bond between patient and animal.
  • Significant and long lasting effects on the individual’s lifestyle (communication, emotional control, self-care, self-esteem, sociability, etc..) are visible within the first few months of therapy.

Donkeys are particularly well natured, smaller and less intimidating than horses, and more obviously enjoy the warmth and affection so the animal assisted therapy goes both ways.

Who may benefit from Animal Assisted Therapies and Activities

AAT is used in the clinical care of the care of patients affected by Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Schizophrenia and Spinal injuries

The animals assume the role of co-therapist in the rehabilitative health treatment, with special indication for people with damaged psychomotor, emotional and communicative functions.
AAT and AAA provide benefits to a wide range of people that suffer from:

  • anxieties,
  • anorexia or bulimia,
  • autism,
  • behavioural, emotional and social development needs,
  • communication and interaction difficulties,
  • depression,
  • dementia,
  • learning difficulties,
  • low spacial awareness,
  • low attention spans,
  • low self esteem,
  • high blood pressure,
  • physical or sensory impairment,
  • sociality issues,
  • special needs,
  • trust issues.