Therapy Animals and a Review of the Risk for Zoonotic Transmission


Animal-Assisted interventions (AAI) are implemented in hospitals and rehabilitation centers to produce many advantages for the patients but could expose them to pathogens transmission, a process known as zoonosis. It is therefore important to consider the possible occurrence of pathogens during the AAIs, and to define the state of the art of AAIs through a careful benefits/challenges analysis. 

The review, “Human-Animal Interaction in Animal-Assisted Interventions  (AAI)s: Zoonosis Risks, Benefits, and Future Directions—A One Health Approach,” was recently published in the MDPI journal Animals. The discussion points to possible future perspectives according to a One Health approach in light of the health and safety in AAIs. 

Positive animal welfare, as preventative medicine to avoid incidents or transmission of pathogens, is a relevant aspect with implications for human and animal health and wellbeing. For this reason, the authors propose a synergy among veterinarians, public health professionals, and epidemiologists, who have a key role in preventing zoonotic disease transmission to safeguard the health of humans, animals, and the environment, in accordance with a One Health vision. 

The efficacy of AAIs is based on interspecies interactions between an animal and the patient.  Such interaction might be impacted by different factors, such as the characters of both the animal and the handler, the selection of the animal species, an appropriate animal educational protocol, the relationship between the handler and the animal, and mutual relationship among the animal, the patients, and the  members of the working team. 

The review is the result of an international collaboration between researchers affiliated with the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO), under the direction of Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., and co-author of the paper. 

“AAIs constitute a tangible representation of the One Health perspective,” says Giovanna Ligouri, lead author of the paper. “And therefore, we need a multidisciplinary, intersectoral approach between the different health professional figures who, each according to their own skills, work in a specialized team for the prevention and control of zoonoses, the health and welfare of people, the animals involved, and the environment.”

“Different international experts in the field of AAI must join forces and develop an action plan,” says Giordano, “in order to determine standardized hygiene, health, and behavioral procedures.” 

“This recommendation should be aimed at establishing health and behavioral certifications for animals performing AAI services in the health sector,” says co-author Orlando Paciello, Professor, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II.


About the Sbarro Health Research Organization

The Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) is non-profit charity committed to funding excellence in basic genetic research to cure and diagnose cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic illnesses and to foster the training of young doctors in a spirit of professionalism and humanism. To learn more about the SHRO please visit


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