Therapy dogs may help lower emergency clinicians’ stress


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • Univadis Medical News
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New research published in Academic Emergency Medicine indicates that for physicians and nurses working evening shifts in the emergency department, interacting with a therapy dog for several minutes may help lower stress.

The single-centre, prospective, randomised controlled clinical trial tested the effectiveness of interacting with therapy dogs (n=43) versus colouring (n=41) versus no intervention (control; n=39) on provider stress. Participants provided three self-reported assessments of stress and saliva samples at the start (T1), middle (T2), and near the end (T3) of shift. 

A visual analogue scale (VAS) for stress (0-100mm) categorised participants as follows:

  • 0mm: no anxiety,
  • 20mm: slight fear and worry,
  • 40mm: mild fear and worry,
  • 60mm: moderate worry with physical agitation,
  • 80mm: strong agitation with inability to sit still,
  • 100mm: out of control behaviour with self‐harm.

At T3, VAS tended to increase with colouring, remain unchanged in controls, and decreased slightly with dogs. Salivary cortisol levels were consistently highest at the beginning of a shift and were significantly decreased versus control in both the dog and colouring groups (P<.05>

There was no difference between groups in the patient-reported survey of empathic behaviours.

The authors say the findings suggest a five-minute therapy dog interaction while on shift can reduce stress in emergency department physicians and nurses.