Accessibility statement

Human-Animal Interaction and Mental Health

Person holding a cat

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) is a broad term that describes a wide spectrum of relationships and interactions between animals and humans. At its centre, it recognises the concept of the Human-Animal Bond, defined as potentially mutually beneficial relationships between animals and humans that can influence the health and wellbeing of both. The concept of the Human-Animal Bond emerged thousands of years ago, when humans first started to domesticate animals.

Although many research gaps remain yet to be filled, the evidence on the potentially positive impact of HAIs (for example between assistance and companion animals and their owners) on physical, psychological, and social health has been steadily developing in recent decades. Additionally, as part of HAIs, animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) cover an emerging therapeutic approach that has been receiving increasing attention in health research, indicating promise in a variety of areas, including neurodevelopmental disorders, rehabilitation, and dementia. AAIs are defined as interventions that ‘intentionally include or incorporate animals as part of a therapeutic or ameliorative process or milieu’.

This research theme covers all research related to HAIs and health and wellbeing, with a special interest in mental health. It is a dynamic interdisciplinary theme within MHARG that is jointly led by applied health researchers at the University of York (with a focus on mental health), and animal behaviour, cognition, and welfare experts at the University of Lincoln. Our aim is to develop a comprehensive portfolio of interdisciplinary, collaborative research with a wide range of stakeholders to generate high quality evidence related to the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and underlying mechanisms of HAI in mental health populations across the life span and across health, social care, and community settings. In line with the core principle that AAIs/HAIs need to benefit both humans and animals, the further development of knowledge related to animal welfare, training and selection for HAIs will be at the heart of all our research activities.

For more information, or if you’d like to discuss project ideas, please contact the Research Theme lead Dr Elena Ratschen. You can also follow us on Twitter: @HumanAnimalYork

Published Research

Shoesmith, E., Surr, C., & Ratschen, E. (2023). Animal-assisted and robotic animal-assisted interventions with dementia care: A systematic review. Dementia, 22(3), 664-693.

Shoesmith, E., Gibsone, S., & Ratschen, E. (2022). The impact of Covid-19 on animal-assisted interventions: perceptions of UK animal-assisted intervention providers. Journal of Public Health.

Shoesmith, E., Spanakis, P., Peckham, E., Heron, P., Johnston, G., Walker, L., Crosland, S. & Ratschen, E. (2021). The Role of Animal Ownership for People with Severe Mental Illness during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Method Study Investigating Links with Health and Loneliness. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 10.3390/ijerph182211908. 

Shoesmith, E., Santos de Assis, L., Shahab, L., Ratschen, E., Toner, P., Kale, D., Reeve, C., & Mills, D. (2021). The Perceived Impact of The First UK COVID-19 Lockdown on Companion Animal Welfare and Behaviour: A Mixed-Method Study of Associations with Owner Mental Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 10.3390/ijerph18116171. 

Shoesmith, E., Shahab, L., Kale, D., Mills, D., Reeve, C., Toner, P., Santos de Assis, L., & Ratschen, E. (2021). The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 18.

Oliver-Hall, H., Ratschen, E., Tench, C. R., Brooks, H., Constantinescu, C., & Edwards, L. (2021). Pet ownership and Multiple Sclerosis during Covid-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18. 

Ratschen, E., Shoesmith, E., Shahab, L., Silva, K., Kale, D., Toner, P., Reeve, C., & Mills, D. (2020). Human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid-19 lockdown phase in the UK: Investigating links with mental health and loneliness. PLoS ONE. 15. e0239397. 10.1371/journal.pone.0239397. 

Ratschen, E. & Sheldon, T. A. (2019). Elephant in the room: animal-assisted interventions. The British Medical Journal, 376.

Upcoming and Past Events

Human-animal interaction before and after Covid-19 - 11th November 2021

We are delighted to host another event on ‘Human-animal interaction before and after Covid-19: lessons and priorities for research, policy and practice’ at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences 2021.

When? Thursday, 11th November 2021, 14:00 - 16:00

Where? Online, via Zoom (link will be provided via email upon registration) 

How to register? Via Eventbrite: 

Places are limited, so do register early to avoid disappointment!

Human-animal interaction before and after Covid-19 - 11th November 2020

We are delighted to host an event on ‘Human-animal interaction before and after Covid-19: lessons and priorities for research, policy and practice’ under the umbrella of the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2020.

When? Wednesday, 11th November 2020, 09:30 – 11:30.

Where? Online, via Zoom

How to register? Via Eventbrite:

Places are limited, so register early to avoid disappointment!

AAI/HAI Research Networking Day - 17th July 2019

The inclusion of animals in health care, social care and educational contexts for therapeutic purposes is rapidly expanding in the UK. Despite increasing popularity and provision of animal-assisted interventions (AAIs), research on the subject in the UK is scarce.

Our 1st collaborative AAI Research Networking Day was hosted jointly by the Universities of York, Lincoln and Sheffield and brought together academics, clinicians, providers and other stakeholders with the aim to:

  • provide an overview of AAI provision and research in health and social care nationally
  • explore challenges and opportunities of AAI provision and research
  • identify research priorities
  • facilitate networking and collaborations.

It was a fantastic day, with 50 delegates from all corners of the country, and so inspiring and enjoyable. We would like to thank everyone again for making it to York and hope to see you again before too long!

Please click to see the Programme (PDF , 298kb) for the day.

Please click to view the Presentations with special permission (password protection).


We are very pleased to be guest editing our second special issue in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health entitled: “New Perspectives on the Impact on Human Health and Animal Welfare”. The special issue information is outlined below, and the deadline for manuscript submissions is 30th June 2023.

Special Issue Information

Our first special issue on 'Human-Animal Interactions: New Perspectives on the Impact on Human Health and Animal Welfare' closed in April 2022, and includes 10 high-quality publications exploring various aspects of human-animal interactions. Research evidence of the potential benefits of human–animal Interactions (HAIs) on human health has been steadily emerging. Broadly speaking, in a health and social care context, relevant HAIs include therapeutically targeted animal-assisted therapy (AAT), non-directive spontaneous animal-assisted activities (AAA), animal-assisted education (AAE), but also the quality of our emotional relationships with companion animals (pets) and assistance animals. Study populations of interest cover the human lifespan, with outcomes under investigation referring to a wide variety of physiological, psychosocial, emotional and behavioural dimensions. Despite the rapidly growing popularity of the view that HAIs are “beneficial” for human health, the evidence base remains quite limited, often with mixed findings. The need for more rigorous research has been identified. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this appears to be especially important as the impact of pet ownership has been a subject of much interest and intense lobbying.

The IJERPH invites submissions to this Special Issue focused on research investigating the mental and physical health and social outcomes of human–animal interactions (including living with companion or assistance animals; AAT; AAA; AAE, and interactions with non-domestic animals/wildlife). Topics can include—but are not limited to—issues at the forefront of public health concern (e.g., social isolation and loneliness, mental health, addiction, obesity and heart health), with a particular (but not exclusive) interest on work considering the role of HAI in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies that include perspectives related to animal welfare and behaviour as part of their investigative remit are particularly welcome. Contributions may be quantitative, qualitative or opinion pieces.

Please visit IJERPH for further information and manuscript submission information. We very much look forward to receiving your submissions. 

Dr. Elena Ratschen
Dr. Emily Shoesmith
Prof. Dr. Daniel Mills

Guest Editors

Animal-assisted interventions

Woman with dog

We explore the potential benefits of using animal-assisted and robotic animal assisted interventions to support treatment and care in clinical populations across the lifespan.  For more information visit the project webpage

Engagement with wildlife

Wildlife on a lake

Our current research explores the potential importance of HAIs that involve non-companion animals, for example farm animals or wildlife, for human health and wellbeing. This constitutes an area of emerging research in this field. For more information visit the project webpage

Relationships with companion animals

Girl with cat

Our research focuses on the impact of animal ownership on physical and mental health, and the underlying mechanisms that may lead to these outcomes. We have also explored the welfare and behaviour of companion animals during the pandemic context. For more information visit the project webpage

Cross-cutting themes

Abstract network

We are also interested in the development of standardised measures for HAI outcomes, methods, and instrument development, cost-effectiveness, and cultural adaptation. For more information visit the project webpage