The Effect of a Pet Therapy and Comparison Intervention on Anxiety in Hospitalized Children

J Pediatr Nurs. May-Jun 2019;46:55-61. doi: 10.1016/j.pedn.2019.03.003. Epub 2019 Mar 7.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of a brief pet therapy visit and a comparison intervention on anxiety in hospitalized children. This quasi-experimental study compared state anxiety before and after structured research interventions in a convenience sample of children between the ages six and 17 (N = 93) in two groups. Participants were assigned to the pet therapy group or control group, based upon timing of data collection. Participants in each group received either a visit from the research assistant, therapy dog and handler, or from the research assistant for completion of a puzzle. The child's anxiety was measured using the State-Trait Anxiety Scale for Children (STAIC) S-Anxiety Scale before and after the visit and parents completed a brief background questionnaire. Intervention and comparison groups had no significant differences in key demographic factors or baseline anxiety level. While state anxiety decreased significantly in both groups, children in the pet therapy group experienced a significantly greater decrease in anxiety (p = .004). In addition, parents reported high levels of satisfaction with the pet therapy program. Study findings provide support for a brief pet therapy visit with a trained dog and handler as a tool decrease to anxiety in hospitalized children while promoting parent satisfaction. When resources for providing pet therapy visits are limited, clinicians may consider prioritizing children who are most affected by anxiety.

Keywords: Animal assisted therapy; Anxiety; Complementary therapies; Pediatric nursing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animal Assisted Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Child, Hospitalized / psychology*
  • Dogs*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Male