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HABRI-Funded Study Shows Importance of the Human-Animal Bond for Doctors


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The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), The University of Toronto, Markham Stouffville Hospital and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan announced the publication of a study exploring whether primary healthcare professionals asking their patients about the pets in the family would positively impact communication to gather clinically relevant information and improve patient care.

“Results of our survey show that asking about pets in the family is an easy and effective way to build trust with a patient, strengthening the patient-provider therapeutic alliance,” said Kate Hodgson, DVM, MHSc, CCMEP and faculty of medicine at University of Toronto. “When healthcare providers learn about the pets in patients’ lives, they are also developing an understanding about specific aspects of their patients’ environment and social history that can improve the delivery of healthcare.”

“Having an exam-room conversation about companion animals helps healthcare providers learn important information about patients’ lifestyle and home life which can positively influence the way they evaluate and treat their patients,” said Alan Monavvari, M.D., chief of family medicine, MHSc, CCFP, CHE and CPHQ at Markham Stouffville Hospital.

Dr. Hodgson and Dr. Monavvari, along with co-authors Marcia Darling, BSc and Dr. Douglas Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DipACT, analyzed results of a baseline and follow-up survey of 225 healthcare professionals asking about the prevalence of patients living with pets, the health impact of pets and influences on patient communication. Results revealed that patients are more open to talking to their healthcare providers about their pets, revealing clinically relevant information about how they live. 

Baseline and final surveys measured awareness of pets in patients’ families, assessment of determinants of health, impact on rapport with patients and patient care. A sign test assessed the difference in scores using repeated-measures analysis. Findings demonstrated that asking about pets strengthens the patient-provider relationship and therapeutic alliance. Knowing about pets in patients’ families influences the available approaches to care and enables providers to incorporate the pet into patient management plans. For example, learning about dog ownership can lead physicians to encourage dog walking for increased physical activity. All participants in the survey had patients with pets, and all patients responded without objection.  

“Scientific research demonstrates that the human-animal bond helps reduce blood pressure, relieve stress, and increase physical activity,” said  Steven Feldman, HABRI executive director. “With the results of the Asking About Pets study, we know that pets benefit the medical profession by empowering doctors to activate pets as an existing health resource in the family to take better care of us.”

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