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A Protocol for Animal Assisted Therapy in a Midwestern Hospital

By Alexie J. Traiser, Katie J. Huot

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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has been shown to improve physiological, psychological, social, and physical aspects of clients (Miller & Ingram, 2000; Diefenbeck, Bouffard, Matukaitis, Hastings & Coble, 2010). AAT increases an individual’s strength, cognition, range of motion, and balance (Miller & Ingram, 2000). The use of animals within therapy also decreases anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, and pain while also improving attention and social participation (Diefenbeck et al., 2010). The role of animals within AAT provides the therapist with a unique tool to utilize in various aspects of therapy. Depending on the treatment plan, the therapist can utilize the animal in various ways in order to match the client’s physical or psychological needs. Treatment plans that utilize AAT to improve the client’s well-being, socialization, and activities of daily living have been proven to be effective through the use of walking, feeding, brushing, petting, and bathing the animal (Barak & Mavashev, 2001). Along with clients receiving benefits from AAT, therapy staff has also indicated benefits including increase in self-awareness, improved morale, and stress reductions as result of using animals as a tool for therapy (Rossetti, DeFabiis & Belpedio, 2008). Benefits of incorporating AAT into therapy have been documented throughout the literature, however, there are limited facilities in the Midwest that implement AAT and existing protocols have been written for recreational animal visits rather than goal directed therapy (Winkle & Jackson, 2012).

An extensive literature review on the benefits and contraindications of AAT, the role of the interprofessional team using AAT, AAT policies and procedures, and implementation of an AAT program was conducted. Staff members at a Midwestern hospital interested in incorporating AAT into therapy also provided suggestions to the creation of this protocol.

The purpose of this scholarly project was to provide occupational therapists and other health care professionals with a protocol for implementation of an AAT program into a neurological rehabilitation facility. The protocol includes an introduction to AAT, benefits of AAT, AAT incorporated into the occupational therapy practice framework, authorized AAT users, skills competency, policies and procedures, AAT requirements and eligibility, and an intervention guide for utilizing AAT.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Pages 138
Department Occupational Therapy
Degree Master of Occupational Therapy
University University of North Dakota
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Occupational Therapy
  3. open access
  1. open access