201501 Animal-Assisted Interventions in Special Populations

A Request for Applications (RFA) is proposed entitled, “Animal-Assisted Interventions in Special Populations.” The proposed RFA will solicit small grant (R03) applications and exploratory/developmental research grant (R21) applications.


The inclusion of animals in therapeutic interventions and rehabilitation for individuals with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities, neurological disorders, and behavioral, emotional and mental health issues has become increasingly common. While conclusive evidence for the efficacy of such animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) is often lacking, some preliminary studies do suggest benefits of AAIs for individuals with certain conditions. For example, several small scale studies have shown that hippotherapy can increase gross motor function, improve symmetry in muscle activity, and improve trunk and head stability in children with cerebral palsy. Similarly, AAIs for individuals with stroke, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury have resulted in improvements in balance and decreases in spasticity. However, these studies are the exception to the rule, given the common use of AAIs in home, school, hospital and rehabilitation center settings. The purpose of this RFA is to stimulate research in a field which has largely proceeded with the development and implementation of animal-assisted interventions for special populations without conclusive evidence of the efficacy or safety of such interventions. Far too few investigator-initiated applications have been submitted to advance the science behind animal-assisted therapies.


The proposed RFA will call for research to examine the efficacy of the inclusion of animals in therapy and rehabilitation for children and individuals with disabilities, neurological conditions, behavioral, emotional and mental health issues and related health outcomes. Research related to increasing cognitive, emotional and physical functioning for people with disabilities through human-animal interaction (HAI) is of interest. Studies that address underlying biological and behavioral mechanism of the potential effects of HAI are also encouraged. The safety of the AAI for both the human and animal participant needs to be addressed in all applications.


The objective of the RFA is to build the evidence base around animal-assisted interventions in special popuations to better determine which interventions are effective for whom and under what conditions.

Program Contact

Layla Esposito, Ph.D.
Child Development and Behavior Branch


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