A new study being funded by The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) will examine the influence of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) on young children undergoing an echocardiogram. It is hypothesized that children will have a more complete and higher quality echocardiogram in the presence of therapy dogs. In addition, parents are expected to report higher visit satisfaction scores and greater exam comfort for their children.
“Echocardiography is an effective way to use ultrasound to ‘see’ inside the heart, and while taking the pictures is non-invasive, it can still be a scary procedure for young children,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Piers C.A. Barker, Division of Pediatric Cardiology, Duke University School of Medicine. “Typically, we must sedate children who have trouble holding still so that we can get adequate pictures. This study aims to evaluate whether animal-assisted therapy could serve as an effective alternative technique to comfort the children and put them at ease, potentially resulting in more complete echocardiograms, higher quality images, and avoidance of sedation drugs.”
“We know from previous scientific research that animal-assisted therapy is effective in alleviating anxiety in hospital patients,” said co-investigator, Margaret Gruen, DVM, PhD, DACVB of Duke. “This is one of the first studies to focus on the potential of animal-assisted therapy to impact a clinical outcome. If results are successful, this study could potentially add non-pharmacologic, low-cost options to improve diagnostic quality for children having medical imaging procedures and could encourage broader use of therapy dogs in other pediatric cardiology settings.”
The two-and-a-half-year project is a collaboration between Duke’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology and the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The team has partnered with the Pets@Duke program, which certifies therapy dogs to interact with patients throughout Duke University Health System hospitals.
The study will examine 150 children between the ages of 1 and 5 and randomly assign them to a group: canine-assisted therapy only; canine-assisted therapy plus standard distraction techniques; and standard distraction techniques only. Dr. Barker – along with co-investigators Bruce W. Keene, DVM, MSc, DACVIM of NC State, Michael J. Campbell, MD of Duke and Margaret Gruen, DVM, PhD, DACVB of Duke – will evaluate quality, completeness and parental satisfaction of echocardiograms among the three groups, as well as reduction of stress or fear among the children.
The HABRI Foundation maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society.