Murphy, an English Springer Spaniel
Murphy, an English Springer Spaniel, participated in the study. (Photo: Jane Smith)

USask study finds dog therapy can reduce ER patients’ pain and anxiety

University of Saskatchewan (USask) research shows therapy dogs can help reduce pain and improve well-being for people treated in emergency rooms.

By USask Research Profile and Impact

St. John Ambulance therapy dog teams were introduced for 10-minute visits at the Royal University Hospital (RUH) emergency department in Saskatoon. Patients reported clinically significant changes in pain, anxiety, depression and well-being after the canine intervention compared to treatment without.

The results of a controlled clinical trial by USask teams were published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE on March 9, 2022. The study was funded through a Royal University Hospital Foundation $20,000 Research Grant.  

Research took place under the leadership of Dr. Colleen Dell (PhD), USask Research Chair in One Health and Wellness and co-founder of the PAWS Your Stress program, and Dr. James Stempien (MD), provincial head, Emergency Medicine. The team included other USask researchers and students from several colleges, as well as patient advisors.

A total of 48 per cent of patients who received the intervention experienced a reduction in anxiety, while changes were also noted by participants for pain (43 per cent), depression (46 per cent) and improved well-being (41 per cent). 

“The findings of this study contribute important knowledge towards the potential value of emergency department therapy dogs to affect patients’ experience of pain, and related measures of anxiety, depression and well-being,” said Dell. “This is the first controlled trial of its kind in Canada — and elsewhere as far as we know.” 

 “The Emergency Room is a hectic place, and as an ER doctor myself, I know that anything we can do to improve the patient experience is welcomed,” Stempien added. 

The research was funded by donors to the Royal University Hospital Foundation.