Animal-assisted therapy to promote ambulation in the hospital setting: Potentially effective but is it feasible?

Nancy L. Novotny, Jackie Deibner, Cheryl Herrmann


Objective: Preliminary studies demonstrating efficacy of the use of animal assisted therapy (AAT) to promote ambulation in the hospital setting support the need for additional studies using rigorous designs to determine its potential for use in the clinical setting. To determine the feasibility of a randomized controlled trial of AAT in the hospital setting to promote ambulation in cardiac patients the objectives were to examine recruitment yields; acceptability of therapy; and identification of safety, patient care, resource, and methodological challenges in using AAT with inpatients from multiple perspectives.

Methods: This mixed methods study used structured interviews with patients who declined participation in AAT, participants who walked with a therapy dog, nursing personnel, and primary care providers.  Participants’ clinical and demographic data were abstracted from healthcare records. Descriptive statistics were reported for quantitative data and narrative responses were analyzed using content analysis.

Results: Unit personnel and participants perceived AAT to be acceptable, without negatively impacting unit resources, and safe—even among overweight or patients at higher risk of falling. Many patients for whom this intervention would be appropriate declined participation. Availability of therapy dogs was inconsistent and required alteration of plans for AAT on several days.

Conclusions: Major obstacles to routine use of hospital-based AAT need to be addressed when designing a study to compare the effectiveness of AAT with other interventions. A sufficient pool of therapy dogs and their handlers would need to be in place to facilitate its use in a randomized controlled trial to promote ambulation in clinical practice.


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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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