Background: Animal-assisted interventions are classified as ‘any therapeutic process that intentionally includes or involves animals as part of the process’. Providing these interventions within the long term care environment may potentially reduce or alleviate symptoms of disease and illness and increase quality of life. Many people suggest that the use of animal-assisted interventions produces beneficial effects, however an examination of the current evidence base reveals a lack of rigorous quantitative research in this area.
Objective The aim of the review was to synthesise the best available evidence on the effects of canine-assisted interventions on the health and social care of the older population residing in long-term care.
Data sources A comprehensive search was undertaken on 32 electronic databases from their inception to 2009. The search was restricted to English language and both published and unpublished studies were considered.
Review methods Studies that examined canine-assisted interventions used for older people residing in long term care were considered. Critical appraisal of study quality was undertaken using Joanna Briggs Institute critical appraisal instruments. Data extraction was via the Joanna Briggs Institute standard data extraction form for evidence of effectiveness.
Results Eight randomised controlled trials were included in the review of which half were doctoral theses. Due to the presence of heterogeneity, meta-analyses were not appropriate and a narrative summary was provided.
Based on the results of single studies, the evidence suggests that providing canine-assisted interventions in long term care facilities can provide some short term benefits to residents, both physically and emotionally, however they appear to be no more effective than other interventions such as visits from humans and providing opportunities to interact with inanimate objects. Providing sessions once a week seems to be just as effective as providing session three times a week in the short term and more research is needed to determine if providing interventions on an individual basis is actually more effective than group interactions
Conclusion The current evidence base for the effects of canine-assisted interventions in long term care facilities is methodologically weak and is unable to be pooled. No solid recommendations can be made, however some preliminary conclusions based on the results of single studies are provided. Caution is advised when interpreting these results.
Implications for practice Due to the poor quality of evidence located on this topic the use of canine-assisted interventions cannot currently be recommended nor refuted. If, however, a long term care facility is considering implementing canine-assisted interventions for older residents they should be aware that canine-assisted activities may produce some short term beneficial effects but they are similar to those seen from organising visits from people or arranging interactions with animal-like inanimate objects.
Implications for research Due to the lack of well-designed trials further higher quality experimental studies that examine the effects of canine-assisted interventions on older long term care residents should be conducted. Trials need to be conducted following a standardised rigorous process.