Inpatient Physical Activity Function Through Enhanced Participation Levels in Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs


Phase N/A Results N/A

Trial Description

Thousands of canines are used for therapy in health care centers throughout the United States as part of a volunteer therapy team, yet little is known about the outcomes provided by these teams. Although many studies have been published, few used randomized, controlled formats to identify whether canine therapy has an impact and any mechanisms by which any impact may occur. The purpose of this study is use a randomized, controlled setup for canine animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in patients undergoing inpatient physical therapy for stroke, Parkinson's disease, or generalized weakness deconditioning to determine whether use of AAT produces desirable outcomes, such as increased motivation, in patients.

Detailed Description

Many medical care facilities in the United States employ therapy dogs in Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI), which can be categorized as either Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) or Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). AAA programs are more casual and are typically not goal-oriented, instead tending to focus on human-animal engagement. AAT programs are formal interventions targeting specific therapeutic goals using defined therapy sessions with a physical, psychological, occupational, or speech therapist. AAT programs with Physical Therapists focus on patients with motor deficits, such as those hospitalized due to stroke (14.5-16.1% lifetime incidence), Parkinson's (1.3-2% lifetime incidence), or other neurological injuries/disorders.
In the last decade, the popularity of AAT programs in hospitals has significantly increased, and there has been tremendous growth in the number of studies assessing whether the use of canine AAA or AAT have positive medical impacts on patients. Currently, the majority of studies focus on AAA programs, possibly because AAT programs require formally trained therapists and animals, program consistency, and strict program structure. Unfortunately, while most studies suggest that use of AAT can improve patient outcomes, many are poorly designed, poorly described, and few include randomized, controlled trials (RCT). The few existing RCT AAT studies focus on depression, schizophrenia, or other psychiatric disorders and suggest improvements in depression, anxiety, self-esteem, social outcomes, and enjoyment/pleasure. No RCT studies have looked at AAT in a physical therapy setting. However, non-controlled, non-randomized studies suggest that AAT as part of physical therapy may improve patient physical outcomes (such as walking speed, number of steps, gait, etc.), possibly by impacting patient motivation and participation in physical therapy activities.
The Aurora Sinai Medical Center (ASMC) currently utilizes both AAA and AAT programs. Most patients involved in the AAT program at ASMC are undergoing intensive inpatient physical therapy due to stroke, Parkinson's disease, or other diseases causing generalized weakness deconditioning, and these inpatients receive daily physical therapy with the occasional opportunity to include AAT in their therapy sessions. Previous studies suggest that patient interactions with therapy dogs are intrinsically rewarding, suggesting that use of an AAT program may increase patient motivation to participate and thus improve physical indices. However, this has yet to be objectively analyzed.
Hypothesis: Canine AAT in inpatient physical therapy improves physical activity function through enhanced levels of participation in physical therapy sessions.
Specific Aim 1: To evaluate whether patient participation increases during physical therapy using canine AAT. Physical activity function is impacted by a patient's level of participation, which is influenced by multiple sub-factors. Participation can be measured in multiple ways, including subjectively by the patient, subjectively by an observer (the physical therapist), or objectively through activity outputs. The level of participation may or may not correlate with the patient's self-perceived motivation.
Specific Aim 2. To determine whether use of canine AAT increases patient enjoyment and motivation in physical therapy. Many people perceive interactions with animals as intrinsically motivating and enjoyable. Consistent with this, canine AAT can improve patient motivation to participate in physical therapy. However, neither enjoyment nor motivation have been studied in physical therapy rehabilitation inpatients, nor have they been tested in RCT settings.
Specific Aim 3: To assess whether patient perceptions of care improve with use of canine AAT in physical therapy. Because the presence of a therapy canine may improve mood, motivation, and/or patient/caregiver communications, we hypothesize that use of canine AAT in inpatient physical therapy will improve patient perceptions of their caregivers, their care, and the hospital.
Innovation and Impact While AAT programs are currently used throughout the United States in inpatient rehabilitation programs, it is unknown whether and how these programs impact patient physical activity functions. This study will elucidate whether these programs provide benefits to patients or medical institutions, thereby providing medical providers with the data necessary to choose the most effective and impactful care for their patients.



  • Canine Animal-Assisted Therapy Behavioral
    Intervention Desc: Canine Animal-Assisted Therapy is the inclusion of a certified therapy canine in the standard of care physical therapy session, such as for walking, fetching balls, standing/petting, etc.
    ARM 1: Kind: Experimental
    Label: AAT Group
    Description: Inpatients in this group will receive five brief afternoon physical therapy sessions over five successive days. The session on Day 3 will include use of a canine for AAT. This group will receive a behavioral intervention of Canine Animal-Assisted Therapy.
  • Standard of Care Physical Therapy Behavioral
    Intervention Desc: This intervention is the standard of care physical therapy currently offered. No canine is present.
    ARM 1: Kind: Experimental
    Label: Non-AAT Group
    Description: Inpatients in this group will receive five brief afternoon physical therapy sessions over five successive days. None of the sessions will include use of a canine for AAT. This group will include the intervention of Standard of Care Physical Therapy

Trial Design

  • Allocation: Randomized
  • Masking: Open Label
  • Purpose: Treatment
  • Endpoint: Efficacy Study
  • Intervention: Parallel Assignment


Type Measure Time Frame Safety Issue
Primary Change Ball Throwing Distance The change in ball throwing distance will be measured every day over five days. No
Primary Change in Standing Time Between every therapy session over five days. No
Primary Change in Patient Engagement/Motivation Levels Between every therapy session over five days. No
Primary Change in Walking Capacity Between every therapy session over five days. No
Primary Change in Sitting Count Between every therapy session over five days. No
Primary Change in Patient Visual Cues of Emotion Between every therapy session over five days. No