Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Hospitalized Heart Failure Patients

Tuesday, 14 July 2009: 1:45 PM

Cynthia A. Diefenbeck, PsyD, APRN, BC
School of Nursing, University of Delaware, Newark, DE

Learning Objective 1: describe the physical and psychological effects of animal assisted therapy in hospitalized heart failure patients.

Learning Objective 2: describe the challenges and opportunities of implementing animal assisted therapy research and practice in the acute care setting.

Purpose: To examine the effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) on mood, anxiety, loneliness, and vital signs in hospitalized heart failure (HF) patients.

Methods: A convenience sample of 44 patients meeting inclusion and exclusion criteria was recruited.  Subjects were randomly assigned to intervention or control groups.  The intervention received a 30-minute AAT visit with a trained dog and her handler in addition to usual care, while subjects in the control group received usual care.  Both groups completed the Profile of Mood States Brief Form, Speilberger's State Anxiety Inventory and UCLA Loneliness Scale before and after the intervention/control period, and vital signs were taken preceding and following the intervention/control period.  The usual care group received a complementary animal visit following their participation.

Results: Data was analyzed using SPSS. Analysis of variance was used to determine within group and between group differences.  The results demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in depression, tension and total mood disturbance for the intervention group.  Statistically significant improvements in pulse, anger, fatigue, anxiety and loneliness occurred for both groups.

Conclusion: AAT resulted in decreased levels of depression and tension, and improvement in overall mood state compared to usual care, but did not impact physiological variables.  Patients in both groups showed a decrease in heart rate and decreases in anger, fatigue, anxiety, and loneliness, perhaps attributable to the control group's expectation of a complementary dog visit.   Limitations include:  1.) inability to generalize to other patient populations; 2.) small sample size may provided insufficient power to detect differences; and 3.) the study design included only one animal visit.  AAT may be useful for preventing or treating mood disturbances in hospitalized HF patients, and hence may improve overall patient outcomes. Future research is needed to determine the mechanism of action of AAT’s benefit, whether AAT is dose-dependent in its effect, as well as whether these benefits extend to other cardiovascular populations.