Pixabay, girl and puppy

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Pet Partners have awarded a grant to the Indiana University School of Medicine for a new research project investigating the impact of therapy dog visits on the anxiety levels of children in emergency care.

“Registered Pet Partners therapy dog teams visit hospitals throughout the country, and we know they can put a smile on a child’s face, no matter what they are going through,” said C. Annie Peters, president and CEO of Pet Partners. “Scientific research to validate the efficacy of therapy dogs in the emergency room has the potential to not only provide more children with much needed comfort and emotional support, but to also help serve as a complementary intervention to improve medical outcomes.”

Jeffrey Kline, MD, principal investigator of the study, said, “Virtually all children experience some degree of psychological stress as patients in the emergency department. The inclusion of therapy dog visits in addition to a child-life specialist could provide a low cost, low risk method to help reduce child and parental anxiety in the emergency department.”

The research project—“Canine-assisted anxiety reduction in pediatric emergency care (CANINE III)”—is an NCT-registered, two-arm, block randomized trial with one-to-one matching of patients receiving therapy dogs as an adjunct with a child life specialist, compared with children who receive child life specialists alone, according to officials. The children will receive a 15-minute visit, with the research team periodically collecting saliva samples to test for cortisol levels, or the level of stress. Dr. Kline, according to officials, will complete this project alongside co-investigator Alan Beck, Ph.D., Purdue University. The study will also test if therapy dogs afford greater anxiety reduction in children with psychiatric complaints, autism spectrum disorder or brain injury versus children with none of those conditions, officials further noted.

“One of the absolute unique and paradigm-changing aspects of this work is that dogs bring the dimensions of affection and unconditional caring to children and families during times of perceived emergency,” Kline said. “This objective is important because anxiety, stress and ‘threat perceptions’ are major negative modifiers of the emergency department experience in adults and children.”

Steven Feldman, executive director of HABRI, added, “HABRI is proud to be supporting research on the benefits of therapy dogs for children in the emergency room, which represents an important area of research. HABRI is grateful for the support of Pet Partners for this project, which we hope will provide further evidence of the complementary role of therapy dogs in human health care settings.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concurrent precautions at the participating hospital, as of press time, the start of the project was on hold.

“The project will commence once in-person visitation is deemed safe and permitted,” officials said.

For more of PPN's coverage on HABRI, read: