Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic

Pain Med. 2012 Jan;13(1):45-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01294.x.


Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of brief therapy dog visits to an outpatient pain management facility compared with time spent in a waiting room.

Design: The design of this study is open-label. Setting. This study was conducted in a university tertiary care adult chronic pain outpatient clinic.

Subjects: The subjects of this study include outpatients, adults accompanying outpatients to their appointments, and clinic staff. Intervention. Participants were able to spend clinic waiting time with a certified therapy dog instead of waiting in the outpatient waiting area. When the therapy dog was not available, individuals remained in the waiting area.

Outcome measures: Self-reported pain, fatigue, and emotional distress were recorded using 11-point numeric rating scales before and after the therapy dog visit or waiting room time.

Results: Two hundred ninety-five therapy dog visits (235 with patients, 34 family/friends, and 26 staff) and 96 waiting room surveys (83 from patients, 6 family/friends, and 7 staff) were completed over a 2-month study period. Significant improvements were reported for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among patients after the therapy dog visit but not the waiting room control, with clinically meaningful pain relief (decrease ≥2 points) in 23% after the therapy dog visit and 4% in the waiting room control. Significant improvements were likewise seen after therapy dog visits for family/friends and staff.

Conclusions: Therapy dog visits in an outpatient setting can provide significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients. Therapy dog visits can also significantly improve emotional distress and feelings of well-being in family and friends accompanying patients to appointments and clinic staff.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / methods*
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities*
  • Animal Assisted Therapy / methods*
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / psychology
  • Patient Satisfaction*