Background: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is claimed to have a variety of benefits, but almost all published results are anecdotal. We characterized the resident population in long-term care facilities desiring AAT and determined whether AAT can objectively improve loneliness.
Methods: Of 62 residents, 45 met inclusion criteria for the study. These 45 residents were administered the Demographic and Pet History Questionnaire (DPHQ) and Version 3 of the UCLA Loneliness Scale (UCLA-LS). They were then randomized into three groups (no AAT; AAT once/week; AAT three times/week; n = 15/group) and retested with the UCLA-LS near the end of the 6-week study.
Results: Use of the DPHQ showed residents volunteering for the study had a strong life-history of emotional intimacy with pets and wished that they currently had a pet. AAT was shown by analysis of covariance followed by pairwise comparison to have significantly reduced loneliness scores in comparison with the no AAT group.
Conclusions: The desire for AAT strongly correlates with previous pet ownership. AAT reduces loneliness in residents of long-term care facilities.