Effect of Animal-Assisted Activities on Wellbeing of Hospitalized Patients at a Tertiary Care Center: A Pilot Study

*Jessica M Smidt
Division Of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St SW, Rochester, 55905 Minnesota, United States

*Corresponding Author:
Jessica M Smidt
Division Of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St SW, Rochester, 55905 Minnesota, United States
Email:jessica@mayo.edu

Published on: 2021-07-28

Abstract

The current study was conducted to identify reasons that motivate hospitalized patients or their primary care providers to request AAA and to measure the effects of AAA on common symptoms patients experience. A single pretest-posttest AAA survey conducted in an academic medical center, enrolled 20 adult participants who were hospitalized from December 1, 2016 through November 30, 2017. Participants were asked to fill out a pre-and post-visit visual analog scale (VAS), reasoning behind their request, and satisfaction survey. The care team completed a qualitative survey on AAA interference with patient care. The most common (40%; n=8) reason for AAA was “companionship”. Post-visit, VAS scores for fatigue, anxiety, frustration, and stress improved significantly (P<0.001). The hospital care team was comfortable with AAA and reported they did not interfere with patient care. These results suggest that AAAs can be beneficial for the emotional well-being of hospitalized participants without interfering with care teams.

Keywords

Animal-Assisted Activity; Animal-Facilitated Therapy; Pet Therapy; Wellbeing

Introduction

Animal-assisted activities (AAA), involve the interaction between a human and a registered therapy dog and its human handler, which provide an opportunity to enhance quality of life, increase motivation, and boost morale [1-3]. Dogs are the most common companion animal. Moreover, AAA is becoming an increasingly common treatment strategy for hospitalized patients and is available in hundreds of hospitals in the United States [4]. As a complementary component of overall treatment, AAA have been shown to have a positive effect on various population groups, such as older adults, adolescents [5], and children [6-9], and improving patients’ quality of life [10-13].
Hospitalization is usually stressful for patients and family members. However, AAA has been used during hospitalization to mitigate this stress. Potential stressors include unfamiliar sounds, interruptions for measurements and laboratory testing, unpredictable schedules, and overall uncertainty and lack of control of the patient’s situation. Furthermore, these stressors can exacerbate the physical pain experienced by the patient. Pain management during the hospital stay is a clinically significant challenge, and therapy dog visits have been associated with reduced pain and related symptoms [14].
At Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, AAA was introduced in 2009. Since then, requests have constantly increased, specifically, for the inpatient population. In total, 1,439 orders for a therapy dog were placed in 2014 and have increased to 2,638 in 2018. Mayo Clinic’s therapy dog program, Caring Canines [15], has 33 teams of volunteer handlers and their registered therapy dogs. The therapy dogs in the Caring Canines program range in size and variation in breed. Furthermore, to stay active in the program, all teams must comply with The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America’s infection control guidelines for animals in health care facilities [16]. As a volunteer service, therapy dog visits can provide an effective, cost-free option for enhancing patients’ hospital experiences.
Animal-assisted therapy has been studied in various patient populations [17-19], but no information is available in the literature as to why patients requested these visits. This pilot study aimed to identify the reasons that motivate hospitalized patients or their primary care providers to request an AAA. Furthermore, to measure the effects of AAA on various symptoms, record patient’s satisfaction, referral patterns (who referred or suggested participants for AAA), and care team members’ feedback.

scroll up