Impact of animal-assisted therapy for outpatients with fibromyalgia

Pain Med. 2013 Jan;14(1):43-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2012.01522.x. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


Objectives: Animal-assisted therapy using dogs trained to be calm and provide comfort to strangers has been used as a complementary therapy for a range of medical conditions. This study was designed to evaluate the effects of brief therapy dog visits for fibromyalgia patients attending a tertiary outpatient pain management facility compared with time spent in a waiting room.

Design: Open label with waiting room control.

Setting: Tertiary care, university-based, outpatient pain management clinic.

Subjects: A convenience sample of fibromyalgia patients was obtained through advertisements posted in the clinic.

Interventions: 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: Data were evaluated from 106 therapy dog visits and 49 waiting room controls, with no significant between-group demographic differences in participants. Average intervention duration was 12 minutes for the therapy dog visit and 17 minutes for the waiting room control. 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. Clinically meaningful pain relief (≥2 points pain severity reduction) occurred in 34% after the therapy dog visit and 4% in the waiting room control. Outcome was not affected by the presence of comorbid anxiety or depression.

Conclusions: Brief therapy dog visits may provide a valuable complementary therapy for fibromyalgia outpatients.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / psychology
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Animal Assisted Therapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology*
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology
  • Fibromyalgia / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Waiting Lists