The potential therapeutic benefits of pet-human interaction are well recognized. Pets are now permitted in nursing homes in most states and are being recommended increasingly as adjuncts to the therapy of people with various physical and psychological handicaps. Counterbalancing this enthusiasm are the potential health hazards associated with exposure to animals. The statistics on animal bites, zoonotic infections, and allergies to pets in the general population explain why some physicians and other health workers think that the benefits of allowing pets into institutional settings may not outweigh the risks, especially in situations involving people who are aged, infirm, or handicapped. So far, pet therapy has a good safety record, however, longer experience with adequate surveillance is required to determine whether benefits compensate for the health risks. Pet-facilitated therapy could be jeopardized should zoonotic disease be transmitted or bite injuries occur during the trial stages. It is important to identify the potential hazards and to plan how best to minimize the risks to patients. Experiences in similar settings suggest that most risks are preventable by carefully selecting the appropriate species and temperament of individual pet animals, providing adequate veterinary care for pets, and educating staff members and patients about potential dangers and how to avoid them.