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Animal-assisted therapy used for anxiety disorders in patients with learning disabilities: An observational study

By F. Giuliani, M. Jacquemettaz

Category Journal Articles

Introduction:Animal-assisted therapy is defined as the positive interaction between an animal and a patient within a therapeutic framework. Previous studies have reported on the beneficial effects of animal-assisted therapy with patients suffering from anxiety, a major challenge for professionals caring for patients with intellectual disability. The presence of psychiatric comorbidities such as depression or anxiety within this population is two to four times higher than in the general population. Finding new treatment options for such anxiety disorders is important. The aim of this observational study was to explore whether the level of anxiety decreased when a dog was present during therapy for people with learning disability.Method:This was an observational study which involved 53 adult patients with mild learning disabilities (26men) average age, 36.5 ± 11.2 years.The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was completed by participants with the therapist, before and after two 30-min therapeutic sessions, one in the presence of a dog and the other with only the therapist.Results:The STAI score significantly decreased after the session with the dog, which was not the case after the session without the dog). After the animal-assisted session, the STAI score was significantly lower (Z =−4.654;p < 0.0001), which was not the case for the session without the dog (Z =−1.054; p = 0.295). There was a significant difference in anxiety between men and women.Conclusion:Results suggest that there are positive benefits of animal-assisted therapy for individuals with learning disabilities which require confirmation in a randomized controlled trial.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Publication Title European Journal of Integrative Medicine
Volume 14
Pages 13-19
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.eujim.2017.08.004
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Anxiety disorders
  3. Dogs
  4. Intellectual disabilities
  5. Learning disabilities
  6. Mammals
  7. open access
  1. open access