Is Pet Therapy an Evidence-Based Practice?



“Evidence-based practices” is a term you hear a lot in the recovery and treatment world. When you are looking at a treatment center, deciding if you want to pursue treatment there, you’ll see statements about using “evidence-based practices”, which are supposed to woo you. Here’s a couple of things evidence-based practices are not. Evidence-based practices are not guarantees that the practice will work. Evidence-based practices also are not cures, just because they are evidence-based. What evidence-based practices really are, are practices which the scientific community has cared enough to research in an official way to gain “evidence” that the practice is helpful for most people. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy is an “evidence-based practice” because it works for most people across a wide spectrum of disorders and life circumstances. Cognitive behavioral therapy is so exceptionally effective that it is now being offered through AI chatbots on Facebook messenger and teletherapy services.

Is pet therapy an evidence-based practice?

It depends on where you’re getting your evidence. Look no further than the internet-wide obsession with dogs, cats, and other animals to get enough evidence that dogs and animals make people really happy. Something about seeing videos, using memes, or even photos of dogs must stimulate some kind of dopamine production in the brain because it brings people pleasure and makes them feel better. Pet therapy, like using a dog, a cat, a horse, or another animal for therapeutic activity, is not yet evidence-based. Research into how effective pet therapy is, according to the researchers who want to research it, is still new and there aren’t volumes of it. The Washington Post recently wrote an article on how little research there is and how the little research that does exist shows that pet therapy, or emotional support animals, aren’t helpful long-term. This is where “evidence-based” gets a little lost.

Are animals a cure? No, and neither is cognitive behavioral therapy. Animals might be, at best, just a method of self-care and self-soothing, which might have no other “benefit” than the temporary benefit of petting a fluffy puppy dog who looks up into your eyes and makes you feel like everything is okay. Sounds pretty therapeutic. Yet, according to the scientific community, it isn’t therapeutic enough and it’s an abomination to call anything “therapy” which doesn’t align with what “therapy” is defined to be. These people probably need to hang out with more puppies and kittens.


We don’t take ourselves too seriously at Lakehouse Recovery Center because we believe laughter is a transformative medicine. We do, however, take our recovery seriously and show clients how to achieve a healthy combination of serious recovery and having some serious fun. There is a solution for drug and alcohol addiction. You’re going to have fun discovering it. Call us today for information on our residential treatment programs, detox, and 12 month aftercare:  877.762.3707


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