The physical and emotional benefits of companion animals
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Elderly people are at high risk for conditions associated with inactivity, and lack of motivation is an important factor contributing to this inactivity. It is believed that a dog can provide the necessary motivation to get a senior citizen up and moving because it needs attention as well as someone to feed it and take it for walks. The objective of this five-week prospective cohort study was to determine if registered therapy dogs made available for informal visits to a cohort of retirement community elderly would motivate the subjects to increase their activity levels by comparing the number of steps taken in the presence of the exposure (opportunity to visit with dog) versus steps taken when unexposed (no opportunity to visit with dog). A secondary objective was to measure possible improvements in mental and physical health scores over the course of the study. The steps were measured each week with a pedometer and the happiness and depression scores were obtained through a questionnaire given at the beginning and at the end of the study. Twenty subjects agreed to participate, and there was an increasing trend in the number of steps over calendar weeks, but not an increase with exposure level (number of dog-visits). Happiness (p = .53) and depression (p = .083) scores did not significantly change during the study. Increased step counts each week may have been associated with other motivating factors such as competition among residents and individual desire to achieve higher counts each week.
Tietjen, Holli Marie (2005). The physical and emotional benefits of companion animals. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from