Article Summary #9: Dog-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents with FASD

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This is a summary of the recent article Dog-Assisted Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders a Randomized Controlled Pilot Study that is featured in CanFASD’s Top FASD Articles of 2020. For a complete understanding of the subject matter, we encourage you to read the full paper, available open access.


Early interventions for people with FASD can improve outcomes. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal-oriented, structured intervention provided by a trained professional with a certified animal. Specifically, Dog Assisted Therapy (DAT) has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and improve social skills in individuals with physical and mental challenges.  It has also been shown to be an effective strategy for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, like Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

However, until now, there have been no studies on the impact of DAT in children and adolescents with FASD. The goal of this study was to understand the effectiveness of DAT in improving social skills, internalized and externalized symptomology, and the severity of FASD symptoms in children and adolescents when combined with pharmacological treatments. Researchers recruited 33 participants from an FASD Program in Barcelona, Spain and randomly assigned half of the participants to receive DAT, while the other half just received their usual treatment.


The researchers found that:

  • Program completion rates were high, with all of the participants receiving the DAT attending and completing all sessions;
  • Both groups improved on internalizing symptoms, regardless of if they received the DAT or not;
  • There were reductions on externalizing symptoms observed;
  • The severity of FASD symptoms decreased significantly more in the group receiving DAT than the control group; and
  • The DAT group achieved improvements on their social skills. ===

Dog assisted therapy (DAT) may be an effective intervention to improve social skills and externalized symptoms and reduce severity of symptoms in children and adolescents with FASD. However, more research needs to be done to understand the long-term and solo impacts of this therapy. These results should be interpretated and used with caution as this was a small sample pilot study using a combination of intensive and pharmacological treatments.

Journal: Frontiers in Psychology

Authors: Raquel Vidal, Laura Vidal, Francesc Ristol, Eva Domènec, Marta Segú, Christina Vico, Núria Gomez-Barros, and Josep Antoni Ramos-Quiroga

Date: 26 May 2020

Read the full article (available open access)

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