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Open AccessArticle

Physiological State of Therapy Dogs during Animal-Assisted Activities in an Outpatient Setting

1
Section of Integrative Medicine and Health, Division of General Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55901, USA
2
Nestlé Purina Research, St. Louis, MO 63102, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(5), 819; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10050819
Received: 10 April 2020 / Revised: 3 May 2020 / Accepted: 4 May 2020 / Published: 9 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
Therapy dogs and their benefits to human health have been studied extensively, but investigating the animal’s welfare during therapy sessions is limited. Moreover, existing literature has mixed results as to the emotional state and wellbeing of the therapy animals. This study focuses on 19 therapy dogs’ wellbeing during animal-assisted activities, by evaluating their heart rate and heart rate variability, salivary cortisol and oxytocin, and ear temperatures. The results demonstrated that the dogs’ wellbeing was not negatively affected during these visits. Moreover, pre- and post-visit physiological indicators remained stable and some of the dogs’ parameters suggested the therapy dogs may have been in a more relaxed state at the end of the session.
Therapy dogs are increasingly being incorporated into numerous clinical settings. However, there are only a handful of studies that have focused on the impact of animal-assisted activity or therapy sessions on the wellbeing of the therapy dogs. Furthermore, these studies show mixed results. The goal of this study was to provide an in-depth picture of the effects of these interactions on the dogs involved by considering multiple physiological measures known to be associated with emotional state (continuous heart rate, heart rate variability, pre- and post-session tympanic membrane temperatures, and salivary cortisol and oxytocin concentrations). Nineteen Mayo Clinic Caring Canine therapy dogs completed five 20-minute animal-assisted activity (AAA) visits each in an outpatient clinical setting (Mayo Clinic Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic). From a physiological perspective, the dogs showed a neutral to positive response to the AAA sessions. Heart rate (HR) was significantly lower at the end of the session compared with the beginning of the session (F = 17.26, df1 = 1, df2 = 29.7, p = 0.0003). The right tympanic membrane temperature was lower post-session (F = 8.87, df1 = 1, df2 = 107, p = 0.003). All other emotional indicators remained stable between pre- and post-session. These results suggest that the dogs involved were not negatively affected by their participation in the AAA. Moreover, there was some evidence suggesting the dogs may have been in a more relaxed state at the end of the session (lower HR and lower right tympanic membrane temperature) compared to the beginning of the session. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal-assisted activity; therapy dogs; emotional state; wellbeing; physiology animal-assisted activity; therapy dogs; emotional state; wellbeing; physiology
MDPI and ACS Style

Clark, S.D.; Martin, F.; McGowan, R.T.; Smidt, J.M.; Anderson, R.; Wang, L.; Turpin, T.; Langenfeld-McCoy, N.; Bauer, B.A.; Mohabbat, A.B. Physiological State of Therapy Dogs during Animal-Assisted Activities in an Outpatient Setting. Animals 2020, 10, 819.

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