Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Advocates state that animals can be useful for educational and motivational effectiveness for participants. A therapist who brings along a pet may be viewed as being less threatening, increasing the rapport between patient and therapist. Animals used in therapy include domesticated pets, farm animals and marine mammals (such as dolphins).
The earliest reported use of AAT for the mentally ill took place in the late 18th century at the York Retreat in England, led by William Tuke. Patients at this facility were allowed to wander the grounds which contained a population of small domestic animals. These were believed to be effective tools for socialization. In 1860, the Bethlem Hospital in England followed the same trend and added animals to the ward, greatly influencing the morale of the patients living there.
The therapeutic effects of human-animal relationships can be related to changes in physical health as well. A 1988 study, conducted by Julia K. Vormbrock and John M. Grossberg, reviewed the physiological effects of petting and talking to dogs. The patients were first selected for positive or neutral opinions of dogs. The researchers discovered that blood pressure was lowest while petting the dogs, slightly higher when talking to the dogs, and highest when speaking with the experimenter. The researchers believed that this finding might be helpful for individuals with hypertension.
Excerpts from Wikipedia