Hospital patients should be given "pets on prescription" to help aid their recovery, according to experts at Warwick University.
Dr June McNicholas said patients should be allowed to see their pets in hospital.
Dr McNicholas said the importance of animals in people's lives should be acknowledged and hospitals should provide visiting rooms for pets.
She said the risks of catching infections from animals was overstated.
Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing congress in Harrogate, Dr McNicholas outlined new research showing the benefits of therapy and said in a study of people who had suffered a bereavement, pet owners reported fewer physical symptoms.
Dr McNicholas, from the university's department of psychology, said the research showed that more than 87% of breast cancer patients in one study confirmed their pets provided support.
The most popular animals for patient visits were dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and parrots.