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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 382-384

Role of pet therapy in Indian mental health services and its implication on COVID-19

Department of Psychiatry, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, JSS Medical College, Mysore, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission19-Jul-2020
Date of Decision18-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance21-Jul-2020
Date of Web Publication15-Oct-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. M Kishor
Department of Psychiatry, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, JSS Medical College, Mysore, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_176_20

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How to cite this article:
Reddy VP, Kishor M. Role of pet therapy in Indian mental health services and its implication on COVID-19. Int J Health Allied Sci 2020;9:382-4

How to cite this URL:
Reddy VP, Kishor M. Role of pet therapy in Indian mental health services and its implication on COVID-19. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 May 30];9:382-4. Available from: https://www.ijhas.in/text.asp?2020/9/4/382/298116


The relationship between human and animal is prehistoric. Pets play an important role in the well-being of a person. The bond between human and pet is in many ways similar to parent-child bond. Pets are considered as the providers of unconditional love and support to people who face difficulty to cope up. Hence, pet therapy in mental health is gaining importance. There is a need to look at utilizing pet therapy in Indian mental health services, particularly during COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent study carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research, one in seven people in India suffer from mental illness. Report noted there are 197.3 million people who are suffering from mental illness of varied severity according to a survey done in 2017 in India, out of them depression and anxiety disorders are more common with a wide gap in treatment.[1] Interestingly, there are around 19 million household pets in India in 2019, their numbers increasing by 600,000 annually.[2]

This is in addition to the millions of livestock in India, which seem to have complex associations (including emotional) with people because of sociocultural factors. Thus, there is a need for mental health research to study the role of pets in the Indian scenario.

Florence Nightingale observed that small pets reduced the level of anxiety and stress in psychiatric patients and Sigmund Freud felt that dogs can sense a certain level of tension felt by patients. He believed that his pet dog would calm down the patient and make them more comfortable and open during therapy. Boris Levinson, a pioneer in pet facilitated therapy, accidentally found that many withdrawn and psychologically impaired children responded positively in the presence of his pet dog.[3] Petersson et al. in a study suggest that dog-owner interaction increases the hormonal level of endorphin-like oxytocin in both and decreases cortisol level in owners.[4] The hormonal changes depend upon the way the owner interacts with the dog and also with the behavior caused by the interaction.

Animal assisted activity provides the opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and therapeutic benefits to enhance the quality of life. Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-directional therapy in which animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. Moretti et al. found that pet therapy is efficient in improving depressive symptoms and cognitive function in the residents of long-term care facilities with mental illness.[5]

Many parents adopt pets especially for the qualities they nurture in children like love, companionship, compassion, self-esteem, and a sense of responsibility. Children with autistic spectrum disorder have difficulty in focusing, responding to stimuli and communicating with others, all of which can be improved with use of pet therapy. Introduction of pets reduces stress, anxiety, irritability in children, and also promotes a more relaxed environment for them.[6] Equine facilitated therapy (Hippo therapy) is physical, occupational, or speech therapy treatment strategy that utilize equine movement of horse as part of an integrated treatment program to achieve the functional outcomes in autistic children.[7] Depending upon the needs of the autistic child, he or she can receive physical or occupational therapy under the supervision of trained riding instructors. Dolphin-assisted therapy offers both short-term and long-term improvement in the speech, language, and memory of autistic children.[8] Children who have difficulty reading aloud also benefited by reading to a pet whose nonjudgmental presence helps the child to be less anxious and it also increases verbal fluency and motivation to read. Pets help Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder children to increase their self-esteem, teach empathy, time management skills, a great outlet of energy, help the child to socialise, promote task completion and responsibility.[9] Pet ownership also decreases the odds of hypertension and high blood pressure in children.[10]

Pet therapy can be considered as one of the non pharmacological management for elderly who are suffering from illnesses like dementia and depression. Pet therapy increases social interaction, emotional support, decreases agitated behavior, decreases risk of fall, increases quality of life, induces physical activity, promotes daily routine, improves mood, and better nutritional intake in elderly population.[11] Pet ownership supports cognitive behavioral chronic pain self-management strategies such as increased positive affect, physical activity such as dog walking, soothing presence distracts from pain, motivates activity when pain presents, improves socialisation and sleep.[12]

The use of service dogs in rehabilitation of war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder will improve the outcome directly and indirectly on a mental spectrum including biological, psychological and social responses, further targeting marked symptoms, i.e., re-experiencing, avoidance, changes in beliefs, and hyper arousal.[13]

Selection of pet should be very precisely done with having good knowledge about animal type, breed, size, age, sex, medical, and behavioral history. Concerns in pet therapy are if animal rejects, it will further lower self-esteem of the person, human injury if pets are selected inappropriately, risk of zoonotic diseases, sleep disturbances, grief following death of pet, poor financial and family support. The degree of animal interaction significantly influenced the outcomes in mental and behavioral disorders. The results are generally favorable, but more thorough and standardized research should be done to strengthen the existing evidence.[14]

  Pets and Covid-19 Top

Although some concern is present regarding COVID-19 transmission to pets, however during the hard times of lockdown, pets helped their owners to cope up with stress, anxiety and loneliness. Animals are providing a life-saver for many providing companionship and consistency in uncertain times.[15] Specially trained sniffer dogs have the ability for early detection of cancer tissue like breast tumour crucial for successful treatment,[16] similarly with specific training a study concluded that there is a very high evidence that the armpits sweat odour of COVID-19-positive persons is different, and that dogs can detect a person infected by the novel coronavirus. If successful in further studies, detection dogs can provide a rapid noninvasive method to detect positive owners, also in airports, railway stations or where large numbers of people gather like public places.[17]

Interestingly for frontline health workers during COVID-19 pandemic, randomized control clinical trials suggest that therapy dog interaction can reduce the stress levels caused by burnout due to prolonged shifts in doctors and nurses working in the emergency department.[18]

There is a need for research on pets as part of integrated services in mental health, more so during COVID-19 pandemic. Pets play an important role in mental well-being of humans. More studies are need for the Indian scenario.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Sagar R, Dandona R, Gururaj G, Dhaliwal RS, Singh A, Ferrari A, et al. India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Mental Disorders Collaborators. The burden of mental disorders across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2017. Lancet Psychiatry 2020;7:148-61. [doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30475-4].  Back to cited text no. 1
Somasekhar M. India among Fastest Growing Pet Care Markets: Experts. The Hindu Business Line. Hyderabad: THG Publishing Private Limited; 2019. Available from: https://www.thehindubuisnessline.com/news/variety/india-among-fastest-growing-pet-care-markets-experts/article29750702.ece?. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 15].  Back to cited text no. 2
Serpell JA. Animal-assisted interventions in historical perspective. In: Fine AH, editors. Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy. 4th ed. Oxford: Elsevier Academic Press; 2015. p. 11-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Petersson M, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Nilsson A, Gustafson LL, Hydbring-Sandberg E, Handlin L. Oxytocin and cortisol levels in dog owners and their dogs are associated with behavioral patterns: An exploratory study. Front Psychol 2017;8:1796. [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg. 2017.01796].  Back to cited text no. 4
Moretti F, De Ronchi D, Bernabei V, Marchetti L, Ferrari B, Forlani C, et al. Pet therapy in elderly patients with mental illness. Psychogeriatrics 2011;11:125-9. [doi:10.1111/j.1479-8301.2010.00329.x]  Back to cited text no. 5
Llambias C, Magill-Evans J, Smith V, Warren S. Equine-Assisted Occupational Therapy: Increasing Engagement for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Am J Occup Ther 2016;70:7006220040p1-7006220040p9. [doi:10.5014/ajot.2016.020701.  Back to cited text no. 6
Malcolm R, Ecks S, Pickersgill M. 'It just opens up their world': Autism, empathy, and the therapeutic effects of equine interactions. Anthropol Med 2018;25:220-34. [doi: 10.1080/13648470.2017.1291115].  Back to cited text no. 7
Griffioen R, van der Steen S, Cox RFA, Verheggen T, Enders-Slegers MJ. Verbal interactional synchronization between therapist and children with autism spectrum disorder during dolphin assisted therapy: Five case studies. Animals (Basel) 2019;9:716. [doi: 10.3390/ani9100716].  Back to cited text no. 8
Schuck SE, Emmerson NA, Fine AH, Lakes KD. Canine-assisted therapy for children with ADHD: Preliminary findings from the positive assertive cooperative kids study. J Atten Disord 2015;19:125-37. [doi: 10.1177/1087054713502080].  Back to cited text no. 9
Xu SL, Trevathan E, Qian Z, Vivian E, Yang BY, Hu LW, et al. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to pet ownership, blood pressure, and hypertension in children: the Seven Northeastern Cities study. J Hypertens 2017;35:259-65. [doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000001166].  Back to cited text no. 10
Peluso S, De Rosa A, De Lucia N, Antenora A, Illario M, Esposito M, et al. Animal-Assisted Therapy in Elderly Patients: Evidence and Controversies in Dementia and Psychiatric Disorders and Future Perspectives in Other Neurological Diseases. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 2018;31:149-57. [doi:10.1177/0891988718774634].  Back to cited text no. 11
Janevic MR, Shute V, Connell CM, Piette JD, Goesling J, Fynke J. The role of pets in supporting cognitive-behavioral chronic pain self-management: Perspectives of older adults. J Appl Gerontol 2019;733464819856270. [Published online ahead of print, 2019 Jun 19]. [doi: 10.1177/0733464819856270].  Back to cited text no. 12
Hoisington AJ, Billera DM, Bates KL, Stamper CE, Stearns-Yoder KA, Lowry CA, et al. Exploring service dogs for rehabilitation of veterans with PTSD: A microbiome perspective. Rehabil Psychol. 2018;63(4):575-587. [doi:10.1037/rep0000237].  Back to cited text no. 13
Charry-Sánchez JD, Pradilla I, Talero-Gutiérrez C. Animal-assisted therapy in adults: A systematic review. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2018;32:169-80. [doi: 10.1016/j. ctcp. 2018.06.011].  Back to cited text no. 14
Hunt E. How Pets are Helping Us through Coronavirus Crisis. 2020. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/03/pets-helping-coronavirus-crisis-animals?CMP=share_btn_link. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 18].  Back to cited text no. 15
Pirrone F, Albertini M. Olfactory detection of cancer by trained sniffer dogs: A systematic review of the literature. J Vet Behav 2017;19:105-17.  Back to cited text no. 16
Jendrny P, Schulz C, Twele F, Meller S, Blickwede MVK, Osterhaus ADME, et al. Scent dog identification of samples from COVID-19 patients - A pilot study. BMC Infect Dis 2020;20:536. Published 2020 Jul 23. [doi:10.1186/s12879-020-05281-3].  Back to cited text no. 17
Kline JA, VanRyzin K, Davis JC, Parra JA, Todd ML, Shaw LL, et al. Randomized Trial of Therapy Dogs Versus Deliberative Coloring (Art Therapy) to Reduce Stress in Emergency Medicine Providers. Acad Emerg Med 2020;27:266-75. [doi:10.1111/acem.13939. Epub 2020 Apr 7].  Back to cited text no. 18


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