Therapy Animals 101: What are the different kinds of animal-facilitated therapy?

Photo by Yucel Tellici on
Photo by Yucel Tellici on

There are many benefits of animal-facilitated therapy for overall health.  Research has shown the benefits of companion animals for physical, emotional, and social well-being, and incorporating them into therapy is a complex and diverse process.  Furthermore, evidence exists that supports benefits to the animals that provide the therapy.

In an article in The American Behavioral Scientist, Thomas Cantanzaro identifies four types of animal-facilitated therapy that emphasizes the human-animal bond:

  1. The individual companion.  This situation is similar to a regular pet; however, an animal is “trained and placed” with someone full-time.  Good for disabled, chronically ill, or the elderly.
  2. Part-time companion.  Animals can be on loan and placed in a person’s home for a certain period of time.  Examples are animal entertainers or pets that visit the elderly in nursing homes.
  3. The mascot.  This animal lives in the therapeutic setting, such as a nursing home or hospice and provides companionship or comfort to resident and staff.  An example is “Oscar the Cat” who lives in a dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island.
  4. Part of the living environment animals.  These animals work on a farm or treatment center and are a part of the community, or could be considered wild, such as horses, birds, rabbits, or livestock.

Although many different kinds of animals can be used in animal-facilitated therapy, it is important to match the type of animal with the therapy needs.  Moreover, training for both the animal and the therapy recipient is essential.  This ensures the safety of the animal and the individual.

Originally posted as an article on

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