International Psychogeriatrics


Animal-assisted therapy for dementia: a review of the literature

Susan L. Filan a1 and Robert H. Llewellyn-Jones a1c1
a1 Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia

Article author query
filan sl   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
llewellyn-jones r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Background: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is gaining popularity as part of therapy programs in residential aged care facilities. Humans and pet dogs respond to quiet interaction with a lowering of blood pressure and an increase in neuroche-micals associated with relaxation and bonding. These effects may be of benefit in ameliorating behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).

Methods: Medline, PsychInfo and CINAHL databases (1960–2005) were searched for papers on AAT or pets and dementia. Publications of controlled trials that measured the effect of AAT for dementia were reviewed.

Results: Several small studies suggest that the presence of a dog reduces aggression and agitation, as well as promoting social behavior in people with dementia. One study has shown that aquaria in dining rooms of dementia care units stimulate residents to eat more of their meals and to gain weight but is limited by the small number of facilities studied. There is preliminary evidence that robotic pets may provide pleasure and interest to people with dementia.

Conclusions: Current literature suggests that AAT may ameliorate BPSD, but the duration of the beneficial effect has not been explored. The relative benefits of “resident” versus “visiting” pet dogs are unclear and are confounded by the positive effect of pet interaction on staff or caregivers. Further research on the potential benefits of AAT is recommended.

(Received September 5 2005)
(returned for revision November 3 2005)
(revised version received January 20 2006)
(Accepted January 20 2006)
(Published Online April 26 2006)

Key Words: AAT; pet therapy; dementia; challenging behaviors; BPSD.

c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr Robert Llewellyn-Jones, Greenwich Specialist Consulting Rooms, Level 1, 110 Pacific Highway, St. Leonards NSW 2065 Australia. Phone: +612 9437 5400; Fax: +612 9437 5577. Email: