Pet therapy can help people with schizophrenia feel more motivated and improve their quality of life, research has suggested.
Dogs were taken into therapy sessions
A team from the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel looked at the effect of bringing dogs into therapy sessions.
Patients in these sessions were much less apathetic compared to those who underwent conventional therapy.
The study is published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
The research team looked at anhedonia, the inability to gain pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences, which is a major factor in schizophrenia.
For example, an anhedonic mother gains no joy from playing with her baby, a footballer is no longer excited when his team wins and a teenager is left unmoved by passing their driving test.
The condition is linked to poor social functioning and has proved resistant to treatment.
The researchers compared 10 schizophrenia patients who underwent animal-assisted therapy and 10 who were given non-animal therapy over a 10 week period.
In each case, they assessed patients' clinical symptoms, their subjective views of their quality of life and their hedonic tone - a psychological term relating to whether someone views experiences as pleasurable.
The group who were given pet therapy showed a significant improvement in the hedonic tone compared to the other group.
They were also seen to show an improvement in the use of leisure time and a trend towards improvement in motivation.
The researchers, led by Dr Inbar Nathans-Barel, concluded animal-assisted therapy "may contribute to the psychosocial rehabilitation and quality of life of chronic schizophrenia patients".
Paul Corry, director of campaigns and communications for the mental health charity Rethink, said: "This is an interesting research and we welcome any new research or progress into understanding the causes of schizophrenia.
"But it would need to be checked before it would make a difference to the thousands of people living with severe mental illness in the UK.
"In the meantime, reaching people early with the right care and treatment is the best way of recovering a meaningful and fulfilling life."