Background and research objective: Chronic heart failure (HF) is a prevalent and costly disease process. Early ambulation has been shown to have a positive impact on patient outcomes and length of stay. Animal-assisted therapy is a novel modality that has shown to be a safe and effective adjunct to a number of traditional treatment plans. This study sought to synergistically combine ambulation and animal-assisted therapy by using canine-assisted ambulation (CAA) to improve the ambulation outcomes of HF patients.
Subjects and methods: Sixty-nine hospitalized patients with a primary diagnosis of HF were approached to ambulate with a restorative aide. After recording their initial response, they were given the opportunity to participate in CAA (walking with a therapy dog). Initial ambulation refusal rate was compared with a historical population of 537 HF patients. Distance ambulated was recorded using a pedometer and compared with a randomly selected, 64-patient sample from the historical HF patient population, stratified by day of hospital stay. Patient satisfaction was assessed through a 5-item Likert scale survey.
Results and conclusion: The 537-patient historical HF population had an ambulation refusal rate of 28%. When offered the chance to participate in CAA, only 7.2% of the study population refused ambulation (P = .0002). Of the 69-patient study sample, 13 initially refused ambulation then agreed when offered CAA (P = .0009). Distance ambulated increased from 120.2 steps in a randomly selected, stratified historical sample to 235.07 in the CAA study sample (P < .0001). Patients unanimously agreed that they enjoyed CAA and would like to participate in CAA again. Canine-assisted ambulation is a safe and effective adjunct to an early ambulation program for HF patients. Canine-assisted ambulation may decrease hospital length of stay and thereby decrease the costs of HF care. Additional research involving CAA's application to other disease processes in various settings is warranted.