Canine-Assisted Therapies in Autism: A Systematic Review of Published Studies Relevant to Recreational Therapy


  • Ann Hallyburton Hunter Library, Western Carolina University
  • Jennifer Hinton College of Health and Human Sciences Western Carolina University



animal-assisted, autism, dogs, recreational therapy, systematic review


Recreational therapists and other helping professionals have used animal-assisted therapies in the treatment of multiple psychological and physical issues. In the case of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), animals have helped with issues ranging from social interaction, to anxiety, to physical balance. While researchers have applied rigorous review methods (including systematic reviews and meta-analyses) to evaluating the efficacy of animal-assisted interventions with various populations, publications detailing such research into canine-specific assisted therapies with individuals with ASD are missing. This review applies Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines to evaluating empirical research on this application of animal-assisted therapy. Intensive searches of health care, psychological, educational, sociological, and other relevant resources yielded a limited number of studies meeting criteria for inclusion in this research. Those studies, however, provide a meaningful window into the efficacy of canine-assisted therapies used with individuals with ASD. A review of these studies that explores what the preponderance of the evidence suggests on this topic should benefit recreational therapy practitioners and their clients.

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Author Biographies

Ann Hallyburton, Hunter Library, Western Carolina University

Ann Hallyburton, MSLS, MPH, AHIP, CHIS

Research and Instruction Librarian

Liaison to the Health and Human Sciences

Associate Professor

Jennifer Hinton, College of Health and Human Sciences Western Carolina University

Jennifer Hinton, PhD

Recreational Therapy Program Director

School of Health Sciences

College of Health and Human Sciences

Western Carolina University





Literature Review