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Home > General > Are Pets Good for Autistic People? What The Science Says

Are Pets Good for Autistic People? What The Science Says

Girl with Autism with her pet dog

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

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Our domestic pets fulfill our lives in ways we often don’t realize. They can detect our emotions, brighten up our worst days, and sit with us through some pretty heavy times. In the same way, they can partake in adventures and make irreplaceable memories with us on our best days.

If you or your child is autistic, you might wonder if having a pet or emotional support animal can help. Here, we’ll explain the roles of pets and emotional support animals for autistic people and how they can enrich your life. The short answer is yes, pets can help people with autism.


How Do Pets Help with Autism?

As with any human being, not everyone is a “pet person,” nor do all folks like animal interaction. So a pet may not be right in all circumstances. Pets can, however, really help support autistic children and adults. They provide a dependable, reliable, judgment-free connection that is beautiful when fostered correctly.

Most individuals thrive when in the presence of animals and can find a new zest for life when they fall in love with a pet.

You can register to buy a service animal with specific training for your unique needs. Or, you can simply purchase or adopt a pet to make day-to-day living more enjoyable for the person.

Since every individual is different, the spectrum of potential pets is vast. What you select will depend on your lifestyle, living situation, space, and general care.

While traditionally, dogs and cats are our first choice when we think of pets, that’s not the end of the list.

Here are some really fabulous pet options:
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Birds
  • Guinea pigs
  • Rats
  • Fish
  • Horses

Each species will work for some people over others, so choosing the most fitting for the person in need is best.

Take Sensory Triggers into Consideration

Old man and boy with autism smiling together

Pets can help autistic people very much. They provide the physical comfort and emotional support that many individuals crave. However, we want to make certain that we mention that pets aren’t for everyone.

Specific sensory issues are commonly found in autistic people and some get overstimulated easily. Sometimes, having a hyper pet around can actually exacerbate these sensitivities. So, it’s best to ensure a pet is right for the person beforehand. The smells, textures, sounds, and activity levels of the animal should be considered.

If you or your child have never had much interaction with animals, it’s best to give it a trial run. Visit a local shelter or privately meet for some one-on-one time with a kitty or puppy to see how everyone responds.


Benefits of Pets for Autistic Individuals

If you have an autistic child, you might wonder about the benefits of having a pet for them. So, here are some significant upsides you might experience as a result.

Promotes Socialization

Often, those with autism face real challenges when it comes to socialization. Having a pet around can make bonding feel safe and less threatening, thus fostering a real connection.

Having a pet can soothe some anxieties of everyday household chaos and bigger gatherings as well.

De-escalates Meltdowns

With the comfort of having a pet around, it can help some people to regulate more quickly. The pet can create a safe environment to settle into.

Provides Companionship

Pets provide a solid level of companionship. Having a completely consistent friend can provide a layer of ease and peace to daily living. Everyone needs a buddy to count on.

Reduces Anxiety

Interacting with animals has been scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels in the system. Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases fight-or-flight responses and blood pressure. So, having a furry pal around can ease some tension in your everyday life.

Provides Cognitive and Emotional Support

Any animal lover knows there is something so soothing about being around pets. They provide energy that’s hard to explain but easy to feel. For autistic people, emotional aspects can prove challenging, and having a best friend around to lessen the struggle can improve their quality of life.


Downfalls of Having a Pet

Cute dog licking a boy with Autism
Image By: Mothali, Shutterstock

Just like there are plenty of things to rave about when it comes to having a pet, there are less favorable aspects to consider. So, if you still need to consider it, here are some things to mull over.


Autistic individuals, just as neurotypical individuals, will drastically vary on how much responsibility they can take on. If you or your child are autistic and cannot manage the responsibility of having the pet, it’s important to designate who will be the caretaker.

Pets need all kinds of care, such as vetting, nutrition, exercise, training, and socialization. While they might meet the emotional challenges of autism, someone must also meet the animal’s needs, both financially, time, and otherwise.

Personality Confliction

Every pet has its personality, just like us. Some of those personalities will be ultra-compatible with certain folks—and others won’t.

For example, if you or your child needs a super relaxed, calm, and loyal pet and ends up with one that’s hyper, intense, or poorly mannered, it might not be such a good match.

To avoid rehoming any pet, it’s best to ensure compatibility before purchase or adoption.

Alternatives to Welcoming a New Pet

Rather than buying a pet, you can also enroll in animal therapy. Animal therapy options will vary depending on location and availability. If you want to check locally, you can see your options and get a good idea of scheduling, pricing, and other factors.

This can be a way to allow you or your child to enjoy the interaction with animals without the responsibility. Also, for some animals, like horses, it can be challenging or impossible for some folks to keep them due to a lack of space or financial means.

This option isn’t available for everyone. However, it can prove to be a very successful method of interaction that can be socially and psychologically beneficial.



In short, pets can be highly beneficial for autistic individuals. However, all people, animals and situations are highly individual and careful consideration should be taken before getting a pet. Selecting a pet based on compatibility and the ability to care for the animal is crucial. Be sure to discuss your individual situation with a veterinarian, support worker or other knowledgeable sources.

If you can’t afford or make room for a new pet, you can always look at alternative ways to spend time with animals outside of the home. Every area will offer different options, so check locally for potential activities-city farms, llama trekking, rescue shelters and animal therapy to name a few.

Featured Image Credit: Eleonora_os, Shutterstock

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