Newswise — Results from a study conducted by a nurse research team at Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center found that pet therapy visits significantly reduce the anxiety of hospitalized children. The results were recently published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing.

“Hospitaliztion can be an incredibly stressful time for children and families; they are out of their normal routine and surroundings, and may be experiencing fear, loneliness, pain, or worry,” said Katherine Hinic, PhD, RN, CNE, Professor in Residence, Morristown Medical Center, and lead study author. “While there has been limited research on the impact of pet therapy on hospitalized children, our study showed that pet therapy visits are an effective complemetary therapy to help decrease anxiety while receiving care in a hospital.”

The study compared 93 children’s anxiety before and after study interventions. The children, ranging from age 6 to 17, were divided into two groups—one group received a pet therapy visit from a therapy dog and handler and a research assistant, and the second group received a visit from the research assistant and completed a puzzle. Groups were similar to each other with no significant differences in key demographic factors or baseline anxiety level.

Each child's anxiety was measured before and after the visit using the State-Trait Anxiety Scale for Children (STAIC) S-Anxiety Scale. Parents also completed a brief background questionnaire.

The study showed that while situational anxiety decreased significantly in both groups, children in the pet therapy group experienced a significantly greater decrease in anxiety (p = .004). In addition, parents reported high levels of satisfaction with the pet therapy program.

Peggy Grow, Program Manager of Soothing Paws® Pet Therapy Program, was instrumental in the implementation of this study, coordinating consistent volunteer dog handler teams to give children and families the best possible pet therapy experience.  Completion of this study was also dependent on the dedication and commitment of volunteers and their therapy dogs.

The study team included Dr. Hinic, Mildred Ortu Kowalski, PhD, RN, Nurse Researcher,

Morristown Medical Center, Kristin Holtzman, CCLS, child life specialist, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, and Kristi Mobus, BSPH, data coordinator, Morristown Medical Center.

About Pet Therapy at Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System's pet therapy program, Soothing Paws®, has approximately 80 pet therapy teams, each made up of a hospital volunteer and his or her trained dog, that visit patients and their loved ones in our hospitals.

Each therapy team goes through extensive training and must be registered through an independent organization. All of the therapy animals are at least one year of age, readily perform basic obedience skills, and have the necessary temperament. In addition, they meet all health requirements.

Visits by our animal teams are available for most patients, as well as their families and other visitors, by request at Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, Chilton Medical Center, Newton Medical Center, Hackettstown Medical Center, Goryeb Children's Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation. Our teams visit most areas within these sites, including the emergency departments, intensive care units, surgical waiting rooms, cancer units and the medical and surgical units.

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Journal of Pediatric Nursing 46 (2019) 55–61