-Dr. Sai Lavanya Patnala, Intern, Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Hyderabad

The modern relationship between humans and dogs is undoubtedly unique. With a shared evolutionary history spanning tens of thousands of years, dogs have filled a unique niche in our lives as man’s best friend. Through the processes of domestication and natural selection, dogs have become adept at socializing with humans. For example, research suggests dogs are sensitive to our emotional
states as well as our social gestures, and they also can communicate with us using complex cues such as gaze alternation. In addition, dogs can form complex attachment relationships with humans that mirror that of infant-caregiver relationships. In today’s society, dog companionship is widely
prevalent worldwide[1].

During and following World War I, formal training of dogs as assistance animals began particularly for individuals with visual impairments in Germany and the United States. Following World War II, formal training for other roles, such as mobility and hearing assistance, started to increase in prevalence[1]. In the early 1960s, animal-assisted interventions (AAI) began to evolve with the pioneering work of Boris Levinson, Elizabeth O’Leary Corson, and Samuel Corson. Levinson, a child psychologist practicing since the 1950s, noticed a child who was nonverbal and withdrawn during therapy began interacting with his dog, Jingles, in an unplanned interaction. This experience caused Levinson to begin his pioneering work in creating the foundations for AAI as an adjunct to treatment[2]. In the 1970s, Samuel Corson and Elizabeth O’Leary Corson were some of the first researchers to
empirically study canine-assisted interventions. Like Levinson, they inadvertently discovered that some of their patients with psychiatric disorders were interested in the dogs and that their patients with psychiatric disorders communicated more easily with each other and the staff when in the company of the dogs[3,4]. During the last decades, animal assistance in therapy, education, and care has greatly increased.
Today, the value of animal-assisted interventions [AAI, including animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and activities] is widely acknowledged[5].

The mechanisms that underly positive human-dog interactions are likely to be interrelated and broadly, yet differentially, impactful across the three influencers of health (biological, psychological and social)[1]. Stress is likely to have an immediate and measurable impact on the biological system through endocrinological (e.g., changes in cortisol) and psychophysiological (e.g., changes in blood pressure)
processes. This same reduction in stress is likely to impact the psychological system through changes in mood or affect, concentration, and motivation, but that impact may not be immediately measurable or may be smaller in magnitude. Reductions in stress have the potential to impact social systems by increasing social approaches and acceptance of approaches by others, but that impact may be of a small size or require even more time to be measurable[1].


  1. Mental health benefits:

-Significant amelioration in depressive symptomatology was highlighted in psychiatric inpatients and hospitalized women with at risk pregnancy. An improvement in depression symptoms was also observed for elderly institutionalized patients with age-related diseases[6].

-Schizophrenic inpatients would benefit from animal contact considering schizophrenic symptoms, social relationships and aggressiveness. The reduction in aggressive behaviors was outlined[6]. However, not all investigations noted that schizophrenics derive benefit from animals[8].

-The most frequently studied use of animals with elderly participants has been to alleviate manifestations of cognitive disorders, such as agitation[8].

-Animals might provide other benefits to demented individuals, such as improving their ability to socialize, as suggested in several trials[8].

-In a qualitative survey, dog owners over age of 70 in Austria stated that dogs provided companionship and a sense of purpose[9].

2. Physical health benefits
-Certain physiological parameters were assessed in several studies, the most assessed was blood pressure. There was a significant effect in decreasing this parameter, heart rate and respiratory rate. Another positive effect outlined was the actual distance walked in patients with chronic heart failure[6].

-Another study in Australia recorded statistically significant lower levels of resting systolic blood pressure, a mean 5 mg/dL lesser cholesterol, and 84 mg/dL triglyceride levels[10].

-An investigation in the US described that dog owners were more likely to walk at least 150 minutes a week and were more likely to involve themselves in any physical activity during leisure time[11].

Although there might be some debate on the safety aspect of pet animals around sick and frail individuals, pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions through the intensity of connectivity with their owners and the contribution they make to emotional support in times of crises together with their ability to help manage symptoms when they arise[12].


  1. Gee NR, Rodriguez KE, Fine AH, Trammell JP. Dogs Supporting Human Health and Well-Being: A Biopsychosocial Approach. Front Vet Sci. 2021 Mar 30;8:630465. doi:
    10.3389/fvets.2021.630465. PMID: 33860004; PMCID: PMC8042315.
  2. Levinson B. Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas; (1969)
  3. Corson S, O’leary Corson E, Gwynne P. Pet-facilitated psychotherapy. ln: Anderson RS. editor. Petanimals and Society. London: Baillière Tindal; (1975). p. 19–35.
  4. Corson SA, Arnold LE, Gwynne PH, Corson EOL. Pet dogs as nonverbal communication links in hospital psychiatry. Compr Psychiatry. (1977) 18:61–72. 10.1016/S0010-440X(77)80008-4
  5. Beetz A, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Julius H, Kotrschal K. Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Front Psychol. 2012 Jul 9;3:234. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234. PMID: 22866043; PMCID: PMC3408111.
  6. Bert F, Gualano MR, Camussi E, Pieve G, Voglino G, Siliquini R. Animal assisted intervention: A systematic review of benefits and risks. Eur J Integr Med. 2016 Oct;8(5):695-
  7. doi: 10.1016/j.eujim.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 May 20. PMID: 32362955; PMCID: PMC7185850.
  8. Howell TJ, Nieforth L, Thomas-Pino C, et al. Defining Terms Used for Animals Working in Support Roles for People with Support Needs. Animals (Basel). 2022 Aug 4;12(15):1975. doi: 10.3390/ani12151975. PMID: 35953965; PMCID: PMC9367407
  9. Cherniack EP, Cherniack AR. The benefit of pets and animal-assisted therapy to the health of older individuals. Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. 2014;2014:623203. doi: 10.1155/2014/623203. Epub 2014 Nov 16. PMID: 25477957; PMCID: PMC4248608.
  10. Scheibeck R., Pallauf M., Stellwag C., Seeberger B. Elderly people in many respects benefit from interaction with dogs. European Journal of Medical Research. 2011;16(12):557–563. doi: 10.1186/2047-783X-16-12-557.
  11. Anderson W. P., Reid C. M., Jennings G. L. Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medical Journal of Australia. 1992;157(5):298–301
  12. Moudon A. V., Lee C., Cheadle A. D., Garvin C., Johnson D. B., Schmid T. L., Weathers R. D. Attributes of environments supporting walking. American Journal of Health Promotion.
    2007;21(5):448–459. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-21.5.448.
  13. Brooks, H.L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K. et al. The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry 18, 31 (2018).

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