New Funding to Advance Research Into Health Impact of Therapy Dogs

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May 2017

New funding to advance research into health impact of therapy dogs

AAA_child in hospital

NIH/Mars-WALTHAM funding announced for studies on animal-assisted therapy in special populations

Researchers at major academic institutions in the United States have been awarded funding through the National Institutes of Health/Mars–WALTHAM™ Public-Private Partnership. These new studies will examine the impact of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in special populations. Research topics funded include:

•    Psychological health in hospitalized children with cancer (Jessica Chubak, University of Washington)
•    Physical activity intervention for adolescents with developmental disabilities and their family dog (Megan MacDonald, Oregon State University)
•    Mechanism of action underpinning animal-assisted interventions for individuals with depression, anxiety, and trauma-related symptoms (Alan Kazdin, Yale University)  
•    The safety and efficacy of service dogs as a complementary intervention in veterans with PTSD and their spouses (Maggie O’Haire, Purdue University)
•    Treatment of maltreated youths (Brian Allen, Pennsylvania State University)
•    Social anxiety disorder in adolescents (Megan Mueller, Tufts University)

Strategies to improve health related outcomes in children or adults with physical, mental or emotional disabilities or mental health issues are urgently required. Interest in the therapeutic potential of companion animals, especially dogs has been growing and their inclusion in healthcare settings is relatively commonplace. This has occurred in the absence of a full assessment of the efficacy and safety of these interventions. Rigorous scientific studies are now required to fully evaluate and critically assess the potential of therapy animals to improve health related outcomes in these groups.

“We are now in a really important era for building the evidence base around animal-assisted interventions in special need and at-risk populations” said Layla Esposito, Program Director at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “These studies will help the field better determine which interventions are effective for whom and under what conditions. Future findings are expected to have a significant impact on clinical practice and future AAT research”.  

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