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Muñoz Lasa S. 1, Ferriero G. 2, Brigatti E. 3, Valero R. 1, Franchignoni F. 2
1 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain;
2 Unit of Occupational Rehabilitation and Ergonomics, “Salvatore Maugeri” Foundation, IRCCS Scientific Center of Veruno, Novara, Italy;
3 Trainee in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy
While conventional wisdom has always affirmed the value of animals in promoting human well-being, only recently has their therapeutic role in medicine become the focus of dedicated research. Therapeutic modalities that use animals as a tool for improving the physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social functioning of humans are called animal-assisted interventions (AAI), and are classified into: animal-assisted activities (AAA); animal-assisted therapy (AAT); and service animal programs (SAP). The aim of this review is to analyze the papers published between 2001 and 2010 in the most influential medical journals dealing with AAI, and discuss their findings in the light of what may be of interest for internal medicine and rehabilitation. A total of 35 articles met the strict inclusion criteria for this review: 18 papers dealing with AAA, 8 with AAT, and 9 with SAP. The therapeutic outcomes associated with AAA are: enhancement of socialization; reduction of stress, anxiety and loneliness; improvement in mood and general well-being; and development of leisure/recreation skills. Regarding AAT, horses are often used as a complementary strategy to facilitate the normalization of muscle tone and improve motor skills in children with cerebral palsy and persons with lower limb spasticity. Finally, most SAP utilize dogs, that assist people with various disabilities in performing everyday activities, thus reducing their dependence on other persons. Further studies are needed to better define the fields and programs for the therapeutic use of animals and to increase their utilization in medicine, as a promising, complementary and natural means to improve both functional autonomy and quality of life.