Zoo therapy: history, types and benefits

The Zootherapy Are individual or group interventions in which an animal, following specific criteria and introduced by a qualified professional, is an integral part of a therapeutic process whose purpose is to improve the cognitive, physical, emotional or social functioning of a person.

According to Senent-Sánchez (2014), although this activity is known for animal-assisted activities, in many parts of Europe the term has been used more zootherapy.


Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) are understood by AFIRAC in Senent-Sanchez (2014) as"those that associate the animal with a professional project or with a specific competence". Its main objective is usually to investigate those relationships that appear because of the person-animal relationship.

This type of activity is used with both domestic and non-domestic animals to help the man in the health problems that can present, both physical and psychological and also with very good results.

The application of this technique has gradually become generalized around the world given its immense medical utility for the rehabilitation institutions that have implemented it. Currently, there are a large number of groups with and without profit that are dedicated professionally to this activity.

Brief History of Zoo Therapy

Already in the XVII century animals like the horse were used to treat the physical disability of some people. Thanks to these efforts, these activities were extended to countries such as the United States.

Currently, there are numerous riding programs for the rehabilitation of people with physical disabilities. We also find data from the 19th century that support the benefits of using this animal for self esteem And neurological disorders (Abellán, 2008).

If we focus on zoo-therapy or animal-assisted therapy in general, we find data they claim were used in New York for the rehabilitation of aviators in 1944. They also participated in treating blind and physically disabled people in 1966 in a center Of Norway, but it was not until 1953 when it began to be applied scientifically by psychiatrist Boris M. Levinson.

This caused great curiosity in the scientific field, so years later the Corson brothers decided to do a study in a hospital to see if the patients really benefited from this activity and obtained excellent results.

Thanks to studies such as this, since the 1970s animal assisted therapies experienced a great expansion by European countries multiplying the centers that decided to incorporate these practices with their patients.

Types of Zoo Therapy

The type of animal to be used will depend on the specific application. Animals normally used for zoo- therapy are horses, dolphins, cats and dogs, since they have better conditions to develop this activity:

Equine therapy or Hippotherapy

Since ancient times the horse has been used to help improve the mobility of people with physical disabilities, and is that people who undergo this therapy see very positive results.

According to De Campos (2014), Assisted therapies with horses "Are medical procedures in which the horse is used as a therapeutic means, able to cover both physical and psychological-emotional factors."

We find two kinds of therapies in which the horse is the protagonist: Hippotherapy and equine therapy . The first one deals with physical problems, while the second deals with mental problems.

Usually in any activity performed with this animal these two types of therapy are used together. There is also a third activity called Therapeutic or adapted riding And although it is not a therapy in itself, it brings benefits to the people who perform it, since unlike the two previous activities, you have to control the horse and do different exercises with it.

Delfinoterapia or Dolphin Assisted Therapy

The Dolphin therapy Is considered by De Campos (2014) as"a set of aquatic methods that help a physical and emotional rehabilitation imparted by the therapist, responsible for motivating and developing therapy, where the dolphin plays a fundamental role in the process."

It could be understood as a form of therapy that is not intended to prevent or cure diseases, but to rehabilitate as well as stimulate people with both physical and psychological problems (Oropesa Roblejo, García Wilson, Puente Saní, & Matute Gaínza, 2009).

Therapy with dogs or canotherapy

This type of therapy Can be one of the best known, since the work is done in direct contact with one or more dogs. Within this there are three ways to work with the dog:

  • Service dogs . Used to help people with low mobility, hearing impairment in their day to day... These dogs are trained to improve mobility, reach objects and facilitate socialization and independence of the person. So this animal will know how to open doors, turn off lights, pick up objects...
  • Therapy dogs . Like the horse or the dolphin, the dog is also used in this type of programs in order to give both physical and psychological benefits to the intended person of the action.
  • Visiting dogs . Dogs being a pet are also used given their effect and company in hospitals and geriatric residences.

Cat Assisted Therapy

The cat is also used For therapies since it teaches you to be relaxed with awareness. In addition, their purring fosters positive emotions and their small signs of affection are very well received by their owners (Oropesa Roblejo et al., 2009).

Benefits for different groups

There are many benefits scientifically supported on the use of these practices as therapy for people with problems according to San Joaquin (2002) provide:

For children and adolescents

Children who grow up with animals or have a disability or problem, have less fear and more positive feelings.

It is also a good way to stimulate psychomotor and language development. Better non-verbal communication Y Higher levels of self-esteem , As well as greater social competence and sense of responsibility. It should be added that the softness and texture of some animals offer benefits to children as security.

In older people

For the elderly, they are very useful because Protects them from loneliness . They provide laughter and increase physical activity and muscle development, they also feel useful for having someone to care for.

They optimize attention and perception, improve verbal communication, and increase positive facial expressions (Fundación Purina, 2001). They also stimulate the sense of sight, smell, hearing and touch.

Mental Health Benefits

Its use in psychiatric units with people with depression Have decreased the number of suicides and the time of entry (Estivill, 1999).

In addition, in adults with mental retardation, an increase in comprehensible oral vocabulary, increased motivation and non-verbal communication has been observed (Purina Foundation, 2001).

For Chronic Patients

In the USA, animals are used for sensory stimulation in some centers.

In people with physical disabilities

The animals are of great use for these people because there are trained animals whose objective is to make their lives easier.

Benefits in prisons

The use of these practices in penitentiary centers has reduced violence and other non-social behaviors, as well as suicides and drug addiction . He has also improved self-esteem and developed feelings of compassion, patience and confidence; Thereby facilitating the reintegration of prisoners.

In addition, they have been used in juvenile farms and in prisons with mentally ill and detoxification patients, even in cases of victims of abuse and abuse (San Joaquin, 2002).

General benefits and according to the type of therapy

Animal-assisted therapies produce multiple benefits depending on the group with which they are used. Below we will talk briefly about some general benefits that cause the different therapies:

In equine therapy

In the Equine or hippotherapy , The horse transmits heat through his skin to the person, so it helps to relax and relax the muscles and ligaments. Thanks to the above, it improves the functioning of the circulatory system and the physiological function of the internal organs.

It also transmits rhythmic impulses to the pelvis, spine and all lower limbs of the person who rides it, so it helps motor, muscle tone and coordinated movement. In addition, it facilitates a locomotion pattern equivalent to the physiological one of the human march, something very useful for people with cerebral palsy.

It also helps stabilize the trunk and head, as well as correct behavior problems.

On the other hand, it develops and strengthens the muscles, decreases anxiety problems and promotes confidence.

Finally, it develops respect and love for animals (Oropesa Roblejo et al., 2009).

In the dolphin therapy

The Dolphin therapy Since it usually draws attention, usually improves the relationships of the person receiving it with respect to their closest relatives. Decreases aggressiveness and causes happiness. It produces advances in language, Increases concentration And increases affectivity (De Campos, 2014).

According to the Dog therapy or canotherapy We must emphasize that since they have a more affective attitude and attachment to the human being, they are able to regulate the blood pressure , Breathing and even heart rate.

In cat therapy

By last, Therapies assisted by cats Contribute Positive emotions And we are reassured by reducing the stress of everyday life.

All these types of therapy give physical, psychological and social benefits to those who receive it. Even so, you have to know how to choose the best option depending on the type of problem that we have to deal with, in order to give the person a service adapted to their needs.


The use of animals by different institutions gives benefits to physical, psychological and social. This allows Improve Life Quality Of people or maintain it.

Despite the benefits that this practice brings to those who use it, it is still unknown to some professionals, who prefer to use the"traditional"method.

If we want this practice to continue to extend and provide such benefits for these people, it should be fully accepted as an area in which professional practices can be carried out by students or even as a field of research in the final works. Another idea would be to collaborate with associations and groups working on different aspects of the human-animal relationship.

Sometimes, these practices can not be performed as a workshop in associations with people with disabilities because of the high cost to the institution. More funds should be devoted to research and practice of these activities with the idea of ​​generalizing their use and having a site in the different social and health areas.


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  2. Bassette, L.A., & Taber-Doughty, T. (2013, June). The effects of a dog reading visitation program on academic engagement in three elementary students with emotional and behavioral disabilities: A single case design. In Child & Youth Care Forum (Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 239-256). Springer US.
  3. De Campos, M.M. P. V. (2014). Animal Assisted Therapy (TACA). Association of Teachers Pensioners of the National University of San Marcos ASDOPEN-UNMSM , 18.
  4. Estivill S. The therapy with pets. Tikal Editions. Barcelona, ​​1999.
  5. Friesen, L. (2010). Exploring animal-assisted programs with children in school and therapeutic contexts. Early Childhood Education Journal , 37 (4), 261-267.
  6. Oropesa Roblejo, P., García Wilson, I., Puente Saní, V., & Matute Gaínza, Y. (2009). Assisted therapy with animals as a source of remedy in rehabilitation treatment. Medisan , 13 (6), 0-0.
  7. San Joaquin, M. Z. (2002). Therapy assisted by pets. Welfare for the human being. Topics of today , 143-149.
  8. Senent-Sánchez, J.M. (2014). The relationship with animals: a new field of socio-educational intervention.
  9. Several authors. Summaries of the 5th International Congress"Companion Animals, Source of Health". Purina Foundation, 2001.

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