Animal-assisted interventions: Definitions

The AVMA recognizes that the human animal-bond is important to client and community health. The human animal-bond has existed for thousands of years, and this relationship is of significant importance for veterinary medicine and human health and wellbeing. As veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.

Animal-assisted interventions are included and endorsed by human healthcare providers as cost-effective interventions for specific patient populations in various acute and rehabilitative care facilities. Veterinarians, as individuals and professionals, are uniquely qualified to provide community service via such programs and to aid in scientific evaluation and documentation of the health benefits or risks of animal-assisted interventions.

Animal-assisted interventions should be governed by basic standards, be regularly monitored, and be staffed by appropriately trained personnel. Animal-assisted interventions should adhere to best practice and have goals (in the areas of health, wellbeing or education) with measurable outcomes. The health and welfare of the humans and animals involved must be ensured.

Veterinarians' involvement in these programs from their inception is critical because they serve as advocates for the health and welfare of animals participating in these programs, and as experts in zoonotic disease transmission.


Animal-assisted interventions is a broad term that is now commonly used to describe the utilization of various species of animals in diverse manners beneficial to humans. Animal-assisted therapy, education, and activities are examples of types of animal assisted intervention. The handler partners with a therapy animal, working as a team, to assist other people.

Service animals, which are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, are not considered as participating in animal-assisted interventions.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a goal directed intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. Animal-assisted therapy is delivered and/or directed by health or human service providers working within the scope of their profession. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, or cognitive function. Animal-assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature. The process is documented and evaluated.

Animal-assisted education (AAE) is a planned and structured intervention directed and/or delivered by educational and related service professional with specific academic or educational goals.

Animal-assisted activities (AAA) provide opportunities for motivation, education, or recreation to enhance quality of life. Animal assisted activities are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, or volunteers in association with animals that meet specific criteria.

AAI Resident animals (RA) live in a facility full time, are owned by the facility, and are cared for by staff, volunteers, and residents. Some RA may be formally included in facility activity and therapy schedules after proper screening and training. Others may participate in spontaneous or planned interactions with facility residents and staff.

Facility Animals are expertly trained to partner with a handler working in a healthcare, visitation, or education setting. Their handlers are employed working professionals responsible for handling and caring for the facility animal and committed to serving clients with special needs.

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