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Companion animals alleviating distress in children

By K. M. Hansen, C. J. Messinger, M. M. Baun, M. Megel

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Physiological arousal and behavioral distress in children aged from two to six years undergoing a physical examination were examined with and without the presence of a companion dog. An experimental/control group, repeated measures design was utilized to study children at a pediatric clinic. Thirty-four (14 males, 20 females) children were assigned randomly either to a treatment group (n=15) in which a therapy dog was present during their examinations or to a control group (n=19) which had the usual pediatric exam without a dog present. Physiological variables (systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressures, heart rate, and fingertip temperatures) were measured at baseline and at two-minute intervals during each examination. Subjects were videotaped during the examination for analysis of behavioral distress using the Observation Scale of Behavioral Distress (OSBD). Physiological measurements were not statistically significantly different between the dog and no-dog groups but were found not to be good measures of physiologic arousal in this age group. There was statistically significantly less behavioral distress when the dog was present (M=0.06 in the dog group versus 0.27 in the no-dog group: F(1,32)=4.90, p=0.034). These findings replicate those of Nagengast et al. (1997) who found that the presence of a companion dog could lower the behavioral distress of children during a laboratory simulated physical examination and suggest that companion animals may be useful in a variety of health care settings to decrease procedure-induced distress in children.

Date 1999
Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 12
Issue 3
Pages 142-148
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Language English
Author Address University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-5330,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Anthrozoology
  3. Children
  4. Developed countries
  5. Mammals
  6. North America
  7. OECD countries
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Pets and companion animals
  10. Primates
  11. Social psychology and social anthropology
  12. United States of America
  1. peer-reviewed