A physical, occupational, or speech therapy treatment strategy, Animal-Assisted Therapy is delivered by a therapist using certified therapy animals to help work on patient goals. Dogs are most commonly used for animal-assisted therapy, but the kinds of animals used can vary greatly: domesticated pets like dogs and cats (even parrots), larger farm animals like horses and donkeys, and even dolphins have been used for therapy sessions.
Animals are carefully screened and trained, and they must meet specific criteria for health, grooming, and behavior. They always work alongside a licensed therapist, since therapists use the animals as treatment tools. Instead of performing exercises in a chair or on a machine to help correct issues with gait, a physical therapist could have the patient walk a dog on a leash. Similarly, an occupational therapist could teach a patient how to brush a dog to encourage sequencing ability.
Another type of Animal-Assisted Therapy is Hippotherapy, which uses the specific movements of a horse to assist patients with movement dysfunction. Through this form of Equine-Assisted Therapy, the movement of the horse is transferred to the patient and produces sensory, motor, and neurological input. The benefits of Hippotherapy include improved gross motor skills, coordination, balance, attention, sensory processing, behavior, self-esteem, and communication skills.