Research on the impact of companion animals in the lives of older adults is considered from two perspectives: pet ownership and in animal-assisted interventions (AAI). This paper first presents a discussion of potential theoretical explanations of the impact of animals on human health and wellbeing among older adults, and then provides a systematic review and evaluation of existing research on the topics of human–animal interaction (HAI) and physical health and exercise, depression and anxiety, and loneliness and social functioning. Each of the studies in this review (n = 145) are rated according to modified Oxford Center for Evidence Based Medicine (OCEBM) levels and the role of theory, in conceptualizing the study or interpreting outcomes, is discussed. The quality of evidence for each topical area of HAI and aging research is summarized, and recommendations are made for future research directions that will increase our knowledge of the relationship between HAI and health outcomes for older adults in different settings.
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