Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart
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Dogs ease anxiety, improve health status of hospitalized heart
American Heart Association Abstract 2513 (Download PDF)
DALLAS, Nov. 15 - When it comes to health care, "going to the
dogs" is a good thing, according to new research reported at the
American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.
Researchers discovered that a 12-minute visit with man's best
friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures,
diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety
among hospitalized heart failure patients. Benefits exceeded
those that resulted from a visit with a human volunteer or from
being left alone.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to reduce blood
pressure in healthy and hypertensive patients. It reduces anxiety
in hospitalized patients, too.
Still, the therapeutic approach of using dogs to soothe people's
minds and improve health has been considered more a "nicety" than
credible science, said Kathie M. Cole, R.N., M.N., C.C.R.N., lead
author of the study and a clinical nurse III at the UCLA Medical
Center in Los Angeles.
To determine the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy on
health, the researchers studied 76 hospitalized heart failure
patients and their reactions to a visit from either a human
volunteer and dog team, a human volunteer only or no visit (the
at-rest group). Patients were randomly assigned to one of these
"We looked at the dogs' effects on variables that characterize
heart failure, including changes in cardiac function,
neuroendocrine (stress hormone) activation and psychological
changes in mood," Cole said.
The intervention lasted 12 minutes. In the volunteer-dog team
group, specially trained dogs (of 12 different breeds) would lie
on patients' beds, so patients could touch them while interacting
with the volunteer-dog team.
Researchers monitored patients' hemodynamics - the collective
system of measurement for blood volume, heart function and
resistance of the blood vessels. They measured hemodynamic
pressures just before the 12-minute intervention, eight minutes
into the intervention and four minutes after the intervention.
Investigators also measured epinephrine and norepinephrine levels
at these three time points, and administered an anxiety test
before and after the intervention.
Researchers found that anxiety scores dropped 24 percent for
participants who received a visit from the volunteer-dog team.
Scores for the volunteer-only group dropped 10 percent and the
at-rest group's score did not change. Researchers measured
anxiety with the Spielberger's self report state anxiety
Levels of the stress hormone epinephrine dropped an average 14.1
picograms/mL or 17 percent in the volunteer-dog team group; 2
percent in the volunteer-only group; and rose an average of 7
percent in the at-rest group.
Pulmonary capillary wedge, the measurement of left atrial
pressure, dropped an average 2.1 mmHg, or 10 percent, at the end
of the intervention for those receiving volunteer-dog team
therapy. However, it increased 3 percent for the volunteer-only
group and increased 5 percent for the at-rest group.
Systolic pulmonary artery pressure, a measure of pressure in the
lungs, dropped in the volunteer-dog team group 5 percent during
and 5 percent after therapy. It rose during and after therapy in
the other two groups.
The volunteer-dog team group showed more improvement than the
volunteer-only group in right atrial pressure, norepinephrine
level and heart rate.
"This study demonstrates that even a short-term exposure to dogs
has beneficial physiological and psychosocial effects on patients
who want it," Cole said. "This therapy warrants serious
consideration as an adjunct to medical therapy in hospitalized
heart failure patients. Dogs are a great comfort. They make
people happier, calmer and feel more loved. That is huge when you
are scared and not feeling well."
Co-authors are Anna Gawlinski, R.N., D.N.Sc., and Neil Steers,
Statements and conclusions of study authors that are published in
the American Heart Association scientific journals are solely
those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect
association policy or position. The American Heart Association
makes no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or
Notes: This study is the first randomized Animal-assisted therapy
trial to look at subjects with severe heart failure in the
critical care setting. Norepinephrine and epinephrine
catecholamines have not been looked at before in addition to the
cardiopulmonary measurements utilzing a pulmonary artery
Twelve different breeds participated which helps to add external
validity to that portion of the study. The breeds happened to
include two golden retrievers, 1 Great Pyrenese, 1 Std poodle, 1
German shephard, 1 dachshund, 2 labrador retrievers, 1 irish
setter, 1 Bernese Mountain dog, 1 border collie, 1 miniature
No incidents or negative encounters have occurred with the dogs
certified in the People Aninmal Connection Program at UCLA