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University essay from SLU/Dept. of Animal Environment and Health

Abstract: Animal-assisted therapy had its large breakthrough in the 1960-ties when a psychiatrist named Boris Levinson discovered the great advantages of involving animals in the treatment of patients. Therapy with animals involves that animals are used in a systematic way, in a person's process of treatment. The most distinguished companion animal used within this area is the dog, but horses, cats, rabbits, birds, dolphins and the most common farm animals are used in animal-assisted therapy. Most animals that are to be used for this specific purpose need to be trained in order to maintain their physical and mental health, but also to minimize the risks for the people that are involved. Most studies within this research area are focused on the positive effects on the patients and less on the effects on the animals. A few studies have however taken the animals best in interest and limited the number and length of the therapy sessions. Animals mostly used to study the effects of animal-assisted therapy on the animals, and how the therapy can be adjusted to match the animals’ natural needs and behaviour, are dogs, horses and, to a lesser extent cats. That is the reason why this essay involves these three species. The aim of the study was to get an overview on how much research that exists on what effects animal-assisted therapy has on the actual animal: How are animals selected when chosen for this purpose? What are the effects on animals that by some researchers are being called natural therapists, because they have the ability to be by our side, show empathy and listen?

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