Animal therapy comes in 2 forms:

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT)
An alternative / complementary therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment.
To improve social, emotional, motivation or cognitive functioning.
Used in a variety of settings i.e. prisons, nursing homes, mental institutions,
It includes a handler which together with the animal has been trained for the role. AAT is structured with specific objectives for each session.

Animal assisted activity (AAA)​ is more casual and unstructured than AAT,
involving more than 1 patient and with primary focus on the presence of the animal itself.
Much more than simply spending time with an animal, animal assisted therapy involves specific therapeutic goals, strategies and outcomes measures.
Therapeutic experiences can include walking, brushing, petting and caring for an animal, as well as processing the experience of trying to achieve a given task.

What are the benefits?
There is a strong bond between animals and people. Animals are accepting, non-threatening and non-judgmental, making it easier for people to open up. ​ Some of the benefits include: Improved fine motor skills, improved balance, greater self-control, increased focus and attention, enhanced problem-solving skills, increased self-esteem and ability to care for oneself, reduced anxiety, Reduced grief and isolation, reduced blood pressure, reduced depression, reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, Improved willingness to be involved in a therapeutic program or group activity, increased trust, empathy and teamwork, improved social skills, reduced need for medication.
Because many children, teens and adults enjoy working with animals, it can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to treatment or have difficulty accessing their emotions or expressing themselves in talk therapy.
It benefits both mental health and physical health issues.
Sigmund Freud kept dogs and often had his chow Jofi in his sessions
He noticed that the presence of the dog was helpful because the patient would find their speech easier and the dog reassured them and so encouraged them to relax and confide.

This was most effective when the patient was a child or adolescent
hypothesis is based on the premise that our attachment to and interest in animals stems from the strong possibility that human survival was partly dependent on signals from animals in the environment indicating safety or threat. It suggests that now, if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible.

Caring for a animal can help you make healthy lifestyle change: Animal owners know the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with animals. However, many people are unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend.  Animals have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior & emotions. Dogs are able to understand words, they can  interpret our tone of voice, body language, & gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.also bring joy and unconditional love into your life 

Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active.  Studies have found that:Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, PTSD. Have lower blood pressure in stressful situations and have lower triglyceride / cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.  Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without pets. When people with borderline hypertension got a dog  their blood pressure declined significantly within 5 months.  Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to doctors than those without pets. As well as providing vital companionship, owning a pet can play an important role in health. Provide companionship. This can help prevent illness and  add years to your life, preventing isolation and loneliness. Caring for a live animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone.  The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Most pet owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles.  Nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks. Dog owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes. People with pets often experience the greatest health benefits. Taking a dog for a walk, hike or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule.  Dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behaviour problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy. But a  pet doesn’t necessarily have to be exercised. Watching fish in an aquarium or sitting stroking a small pet can reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate. One reason for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. It also eases loneliness Dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood. Because pets live in the moment they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present. Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressedone plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.

Providing sensory stress relief.  Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed. Get a dog, lose weight a number of studies have linked owning a dog to losing weight: Dogs provide support in similar ways to a human exercise buddy, but with greater consistency and without any negative influence Find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move far away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth. Choosing to adopt a pet from a shelter, especially an older pet, can add to your sense of fulfillment, knowing that you’ve provided a home to a pet that may otherwise have been euthanized. Stay connected. Maintaining a social network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder.  Pets, especially dogs, are a great way for older adults to spark up conversations to meet new people. Boost your vitality. You can overcome many of the physical challenges associated with aging by taking good care of yourself. Pets  encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, boosting your immune system and increase your energy.

How pets help adults with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia As part of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients may exhibit a variety of behavioural problems, many related to an inability to deal with stress. Alzheimer’s patients suffer less stress and have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a dog or cat in the home to provide a source of positive, nonverbal communication.  The playful interaction and gentle touch from a well-trained, docile animal can help soothe an Alzheimer’s patient and decrease aggressive behaviour. In many cases a patient’s problem behaviour is a reaction to the stressed response of the primary caretaker. Pets can help ease the stress of caregivers.  Cats or caged animals may be more suitable than dogs, which generally require more care and can add to the burden of someone who’s already looking after an Alzheimer’s patient. The health benefits for children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a dog or cat. Unlike parents or teachers, pets are never critical and don’t give orders.  They are loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security. Having an ever-present pet can help ease separation anxiety in children when parents  aren’t around. Having the love and companionship of a pet can make a child feel important and help  develop a positive self-image. Kids who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people. Pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids.  Both the animal and the child need to be trained to behave appropriately with each other. Children and adults can benefit from playing with pets, which can provide a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body.  Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child.  It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity.  The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance.  Caring for a furry friend can also offer another benefit to a child: immense joy.

Children with learning disorders and other challenges
Children with autism or learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as animals do.
Learning to first connect with a pet may even help in their interactions with people.
Children learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder.
Playing and exercising with a pet can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive throughout the day.
It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.

Shelter and rescue animals
Mixed breed or purebred, animals adopted from a rescue make excellent pets.
For the most part, a pet ends up in rescue through no fault of their own.
Owners may have died or moved to a place that doesn’t allow pets, or the pet may have been abandoned by irresponsible owners who bought him on a whim and later discovered that they were unable or unwilling to care for him properly.
A variety of different organizations offer specially trained therapy dogs and cats to visit adults and children in various establishments During these visits, people pet and stroke the animals, which can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.