Animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities involve a nonhuman animal as a key therapeutic agent in some kind of intervention that may range from highly specified, as in AAT, to more casual, as in AAA. In this review I address the question: How important is the animal in animal therapy? In other words, does the recent literature strongly support the notion that a live animal, as opposed to another novel stimulating component, is specifically necessary for therapeutic success. Two meta-analyses and 28 single empirical studies were reviewed in order to address this issue. I conclude that the effects of AAT and AAA are likely to be moderate and broad at best and that, although improving, the literature has not yet reached an experimentally rigorous enough level to provide a definitive robust conclusion about the effectiveness of these approaches, particularly with regard to the question of whether a live animal is necessary for a therapeutic effect.
Marino, L. (2012). Construct Validity of AnimalAssisted Therapy and Activities: How Important Is the Animal in AAT?. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 25(Supplement 1), 139-151.