What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the utilization of animals as a therapeutic modality to facilitate healing and rehabilitation of patients with acute or chronic diseases.

Therapet’s Executive Director explains more in this video for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas’ Blue Promise series:

What is the difference between Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Visitation?


Animal Assisted Therapy is when animals are used in goal directed treatment sessions. These goals can be physical, mental, emotional and/or social. A visitation program is when animals accompany their owners to a facility and visit with the patients or residents.  Regardless of the type of program, all animals should be temperament tested, given a complete veterinary screening, and receive obedience training before beginning to work with patients.

What are the benefits of AAT versus traditional modalities?


AAT offers numerous benefits beyond those available through traditional therapies.  In this era of managed care and cost reduction, AAT allows therapists to use one treatment tool, an animal, to target a variety of goals.  In a hospital setting these goals include, but are not limited to, improving patients’ range of motion, strength and endurance, balance and mobility, and sensation.  During the same session, using the animal, cognitive and perceptual deficits can be addressed.  The patient also receives psychosocial benefits such as building rapport, increasing self-esteem and motivation, and stress reduction.  What other modality offers such a variety of benefits in such a delightful package?!?!?!

What is the difference between temperament and training?


Temperament is an animal’s natural or instinctive behavior.  This is the innate way an animal will respond when stressed.  Training is teaching an animal to follow commands while under the control of a human.  Successful therapy and visitation animals must have sound temperament and obedience training.

Why should Therapy Animals be temperament tested?


Animals that participate in Visitation or AAT programs are placed in very stressful situations each time they work with patients.  It is essential for the safety of the patients that the animals instinctively react in a safe, predictable way regardless of the setting.

What health screening is required for Therapy Animals?


The veterinarian screens the prospective therapy dog for overall good health, healthy teeth and gums, good coat and skin condition, and any chronic diseases or conditions that may interfere with the animal performing at their best.  In addition, owners must provide proof that all vaccinations are current.

How do I set up a visitation or AAT program at my facility?


To establish an AAT program one must begin by approaching the facility’s administration with a well organized plan.  This should include: clearly written policies and procedures; staff education about the proposed program; a plan for recruitment of volunteers and training; a plan for training and testing of potential therapy animals as well as a plan for implementation of the program.

What animals are appropriate for inclusion in the program?


The most popular animals for AAT programs are dogs, cats and horses.  However birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigs and llamas can also be used.  The size and location of the facility as well as the patient population are important factors to consider.  Therapet currently has dogs, cats and a bird in our program.

Any animal used in therapy and visitation should be certified by an organization that provides:

  1. Required ongoing education to the animal and owner and
  2. liability insurance covering the animal and owner during volunteer activities.

If you are considering establishing an Animal Assisted Therapy or Visitation program, you should determine what criteria are used by the organization that will provide animals to you.  Your program’s success will depend upon properly trained animal/owner teams.

How can my animal become a Therapet?

  1. Obedience Training
  2. Complete Application & Veterinary Screening
  3. Complete Therapet Skills Class
  4. Pass Therapet Skills Test
  5. Pass Therapet Temperament Test
  6. Begin participating in AAT or visitation programs and completion of an apprenticeship period of 1 – 3 months.

Therapet provides seminars to assist other facilities in beginning programs; however we only certify animals in the East Texas Area because of the close supervision and training we feel the animals need to work in these more intense settings.

For more information on certifying an animal with Therapet, please review our Certification Information.

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