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Companion-animals' effectiveness in managing chronic pain in adult community members

By L. Bradley, P. C. Bennett

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Therapy animals have been found to alleviate pain in healthcare settings, but companion-animal owners report greater discomfort and use more analgesics than people who do not own one or more companion animals. To investigate this anomaly, 173 adults completed an online survey that included questions about themselves and any companion animal they owned, the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scales, the Numeric Pain Rating Scale, and a modified version of the Chronic Pain Coping Inventory-42. Participants were also invited to contact the researchers to expand on their responses in a semi-structured interview, to which seven owners responded. There was no significant difference between reported pain levels in owners versus non-owners. However, companion-animal owners who reported actively using human-animal interactions to manage their pain rated this as moderately helpful and reported lower pain levels than other owners. There were also no significant differences between owners' and non-owners' anxiety or stress levels. Companion-animal owners reported more depressive symptoms than non-owners, but owners with animals perceived as more friendly reported fewer depressive symptoms. Dog owners comprised most of the sample and, for these participants, there was a negative association between perceived dog friendliness and levels of depression and anxiety. Those with more disobedient dogs also experienced greater stress. Interviewees reported that their companion animals helped them cope with pain in many ways, including provision of social and emotional support and by providing a sense of purpose in life. These findings indicate that some, but not all, companion animals may be beneficial for participants with chronic pain. Since the benefits appear to be associated with the species and personality of the animal, and with whether the person actively uses human-animal interactions as a pain-coping mechanism, care should be taken before recommending companion-animal ownership to persons suffering from chronic pain.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 28
Issue 4
Pages 635-647
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1070006
Language English
Author Address School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Victoria 3552,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Analgesia
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animals
  4. Anthrozoology
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Depression
  9. Dogs
  10. Efficacy
  11. Emotions
  12. Humans
  13. Interactions
  14. interviews
  15. Mammals
  16. Men
  17. Pain
  18. peer-reviewed
  19. Personality
  20. Pets and companion animals
  21. Primates
  22. Research
  23. Stress
  24. Symptoms
  25. therapy
  26. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed