Background Animal-assisted therapy improves physiological and psychosocial variables in healthy and hypertensive patients.
Objectives To determine whether a 12-minute hospital visit with a therapy dog improves hemodynamic measures, lowers neurohormone levels, and decreases state anxiety in patients with advanced heart failure.
Methods A 3-group randomized repeated-measures experimental design was used in 76 adults. Longitudinal analysis was used to model differences among the 3 groups at 3 times. One group received a 12-minute visit from a volunteer with a therapy dog; another group, a 12-minute visit from a volunteer; and the control group, usual care. Data were collected at baseline, at 8 minutes, and at 16 minutes.
Results Compared with controls, the volunteer-dog group had significantly greater decreases in systolic pulmonary artery pressure during (−4.32 mm Hg, P = .03) and after (−5.78 mm Hg, P = .001) and in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure during (−2.74 mm Hg, P = .01) and after (−4.31 mm Hg, P = .001) the intervention. Compared with the volunteer-only group, the volunteer-dog group had significantly greater decreases in epinephrine levels during (−15.86 pg/mL, P = .04) and after (−17.54 pg/mL, P = .04) and in norepinephrine levels during (−232.36 pg/mL, P = .02) and after (−240.14 pg/mL, P = .02) the intervention. After the intervention, the volunteer-dog group had the greatest decrease from baseline in state anxiety sum score compared with the volunteer-only (−6.65 units, P =.002) and the control groups (−9.13 units, P < .001).
Conclusions Animal-assisted therapy improves cardiopulmonary pressures, neurohormone levels, and anxiety in patients hospitalized with heart failure.