HAI Research Update from HABRI
New HABRI-Funded Research Projects
In 2019, HABRI funded a total of five new grant projects, summarized below. These new studies will examine the influence of pet ownership, animal-assisted therapy, service dogs, and dog-walking on various aspects of physical and mental health of children, adolescents and their families.
With the funding of these five grants, HABRI has now funded a total of 31 grant projects, and HABRI’s total research funding has now exceeded $3 million.
- Human-Animal Interaction and Trajectories of Youth Development in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study
- To assess if there are systematic differences between families who own pets and those without pets with regard to demographics, cultural/ethnic identity, social environment, and health status and if these factors predict patterns of pet ownership (e.g., stability or changes in pet ownership status) over time
- To determine the role of pet ownership in predicting trajectories of youth development, including social interaction and support, academic performance, mental health and physical activity
- Diamond Dogs: A Pilot Dog-Walking Trial with Overweight College Students and Dog Shelters in the Inner-City
- To assess the preliminary acceptability, feasibility and efficacy of a Shelter dog-walking intervention with college students.
- During the study, the Shelter dog intervention relative to the pedometer-only control will have greater improvements in:
- Moderate and vigorous steps walked/week and less sedentary hours/week;
- Health and fitness, neurocognitive, and quality of life and mood outcomes, and result in greater acceptability ratings and will be more likely to promote pet adoption;
- Acceptability and feasibility will also be assessed by recruitment, retention and percentage of missing data
- Evaluating the Effects of Service Dogs on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their Caregivers
- Assess differences in ASD symptomology in children with ASD, including social and interfering behaviors, via standardized caregiver-report
- Assess differences in stress physiology and sleep in children with ASD via a salivary biomarker of stress and standardized caregiver-report
- Assess differences in caregiver and family wellbeing via standardized caregiver-report
- Direct Experimental Assessment of Therapy Dog Handlers on Child and Dog Behavior During AAI
- The investigators aim to determine how different handler styles influence stress behavior, affiliative behavior, and salivary cortisol levels of both child and dog during AAI sessions
- In addition, the investigators aim to determine if the therapeutic effect for the child is altered by different dog handling procedures
- The investigators hypothesize that the handler’s interaction will influence the behavior and stress hormone level of both the dog and the child during AAI sessions
- Implementation of Canine-Assisted Forensic Interviews with Children
- Objective 1: Do dog-assisted interviews promote children’s event reports?
- Objective 2: At what time point should forensic interviewers introduce dogs?
- Objective 3: Do dog-assisted interviews reduce children’s stress during interviews?
For a full list of HABRI-funded projects, please visit www.habri.org/grants/projects/
Published Research in the Field of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI)
In addition to HABRI’s newly funded projects, it’s been an exciting year for the field of human-animal interaction (HAI) research. Numerous studies published this year build on existing evidence supporting companion animal ownership and/or interaction for a wide range of benefits to our collective health and well-being. This list is by no means exhaustive, and as always, should you or a colleague ever have any questions about any HAI research findings, please contact Lindsey Melfi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Physical Health and Wellbeing
- Dog Ownership and Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Kramer, C. K., Mehmood, S., & Suen, R. S. (2019). Dog ownership and survival: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 12(10), e005554.
- Published in the American Heart Association Journal, Circulation, this systematic review of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog ownership was associated with a 24% lower risk of all-cause mortality, 65% reduced risk of mortality after heart attack; and 31% reduced risk of mortality due to cardiovascular-related issues.
- The study concludes that dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality.
- Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event
- Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Egenvall, A., Ingelsson, E., & Fall, T. (2019). Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event: A Register-Based Prospective Study. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 12(10), e005342.
- Researchers in this study compared the health outcomes of dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or stroke using health data provided by the Swedish National Patient Register.
- The risk of death for heart attack patients living alone after hospitalization was 33% lower and 27% lower following a stroke, compared to non-owners.
- The researchers conclude that they found evidence of an association of dog ownership with a better outcome after a major cardiovascular event. Although their models are adjusted for many potential confounders, there are also unmeasured confounders such as smoking that prevent them from drawing conclusions regarding a possible causal effect.
- Reduction of Major Source of Cat Allergens, Active Fel d1 from Purina Institute
- Satyaraj, Ebenezer, et al. “Reduction of active Fel d1 from cats using an antiFel d1 egg IgY antibody.” Immunity, Inflammation and Disease 7.2 (2019): 68-73.
- Up to 95% of reactions in cat allergen-sensitive people are caused by Fel d1, which transfers from the tongue and sticks to the cat’s fur when she grooms, then dries and floats about the house, causing allergic reactions.
- This study reveals there is a way to reduce Fel d1, the primary agent that causes cat allergens, through safely altering a cat’s diet – leading to as much as a 47% decrease in reaction.
- A Systematic Review of Research on Pet Ownership and Animal Interactions among Older Adults
- Gee, N. R., & Mueller, M. K. (2019). A Systematic Review of Research on Pet Ownership and Animal Interactions among Older Adults. Anthrozoös, 32(2), 183-207.
- In this systematic review of articles focused on HAI and older adults, 145 articles were reviewed and ranked based on a modified version of the OCEBM level system.
- A wide range of methodological approaches and rigor was found.
- Many of the results presented are promising in terms of the potential for animals to positively impact the health and wellbeing of older adults, but the mixed findings also reflect the reality that the relationship between humans and animals is complicated and at times conflicted.
- It is suggested that future researchers embrace this complexity and explore theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that can account for the uniqueness of the relationships between pets and people.
- Future Directions for Research on Human–Animal Interaction in an Aging Population
- Gee, N. R., & Galik, E. (2019). Future Directions for Research on Human–Animal Interaction in an Aging Population. Anthrozoös, 32(2), 283-291.
- This final paper in the thematic issue, “Human –Animal Interaction and Healthy Human Aging,” highlights and distills key points from the series of papers and provides recommendations for improving and expanding Human–Animal Interaction (HAI) research into healthy human aging.
- The paper concludes the importance of animals in the lives of older adults is apparent from the ubiquity of pet ownership among that population.
- However, we have much to learn about how, when, and under what conditions companion animals may be beneficial to the psychological or physical health of older adults.
- National Poll on Healthy Aging: How pets contribute to healthy aging
- Janevic, Mary, et al. “National Poll on Healthy Aging: How pets contribute to healthy aging.” (2019).
- This scientific poll found that, among older adults (50-80) with pets, 79% report reduced stress, 73% report a new sense of purpose, 65% report easier connections with others, and 64% report they are more physically active.
Child Health and Development
- Pet Ownership and Children’s Emotional Expression: Propensity Score-Matched Analysis of Longitudinal Data from Japan
- Sato, R., Fujiwara, T., Kino, S., Nawa, N., & Kawachi, I. (2019). Pet Ownership and Children’s Emotional Expression: Propensity Score-Matched Analysis of Longitudinal Data from Japan. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(5), 758.
- In this study, researchers examined the relationship between pet ownership and emotional expression in later childhood using propensity score matching with longitudinal data.
- Researchers found that pet ownership had a modest effect on children’s emotional expressiveness, and children who had a pet at home in toddlerhood had a lower prevalence of poor emotional expression in later childhood, compared to those without pets.
- Spotlight on the Psychological Basis of Childhood Pet Attachment and its Implications
- Wanser, S. H., Vitale, K. R., Thielke, L. E., Brubaker, L., & Udell, M. A. (2019). Spotlight on the psychological basis of childhood pet attachment and its implications. Psychology research and behavior management, 12, 469.
- This review suggests that for both adults and children, attachment to pets (especially dogs and cats) can provide social support and may contribute to a wide range of physical and psychological benefits.
- While there is still much research to be done in this area, studies conducted to date seem to suggest that a solid foundation for further scientific discovery in this area exists, and that child–pet relationships may be an area of growing applied importance given the large and increasing presence of pets living in homes with children around the world.
- Exposure to Household Pet Cats and Dogs in Childhood and Risk of Subsequent Diagnosis of Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder
- Yolken, R., Stallings, C., Origoni, A., Katsafanas, E., Sweeney, K., Squire, A., & Dickerson, F. (2019). Exposure to household pet cats and dogs in childhood and risk of subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. PloS one, 14(12).
- In this study population consisting of a cohort of 396 individuals with schizophrenia, 381 with bipolar disorder, and 594 controls, exposure to a household pet dog at birth and during the first three years of life is associated with a significantly (as great as 24%) decreased hazard and relative risk of a subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia.
- These associations may be due to socio-demographic, neuro-immune, or other biological factors or combinations of factors. An understanding of the mechanisms underlying these associations could provide insights into the role of environmental exposures as risk factors for these disorders and inform appropriate interventions.
- Measuring the Social, Behavioral, and Academic Effects of Classroom Pets on Third and Fourth-Grade Students
- McCullough, Amy, et al. “Measuring the Social, Behavioral, and Academic Effects of Classroom Pets on Third and Fourth-Grade Students” Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin (2019).
- This wide-ranging study conducted across 41 classrooms found that pets in the classroom led to increased social skills, social competence, and academic reading competence in children, as reported by teachers.
Mental Health and Wellness
- Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Pendry, Patricia, and Jaymie L. Vandagriff. “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” AERA Open 5.2 (2019): 2332858419852592.
- This randomized control trial (RCT) demonstrates that petting animals during a 10-minute, college-based animal visitation program featuring shelter cats and dogs lowered salivary cortisol levels of students compared to those who merely observed, watched still images of the same animals, and waited without external stimuli.
- Results suggest college-based AVPs may provide effective stress relief.
- This is the first causal examination of a university- and group-based AVP on university students’ salivary cortisol levels, it complements work by Polheber and Matchock (2013), who found a stress buffering effect on salivary cortisol in college students who performed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in the presence of a therapy dog compared to students who completed the TSST alone or with a friend.
- Military veterans and their PTSD service dogs: associations between training methods, PTSD severity, dog behavior, and the human-animal bond
- LaFollette, Megan Renee, et al. “Military veterans and their PTSD service dogs: associations between training methods, PTSD severity, dog behavior, and the human-animal bond.” Frontiers in veterinary science 6 (2019): 23.
- This study explored the associations between training methods, PTSD severity, service dog behavior, and the veteran-service dog bond in a population of military veterans with PTSD.
- Results suggest military veterans with PTSD have an unusually strong connection to their service dogs.
- In general, the reported use of positive reinforcement or bond-based training methods were associated with reporting more positive outcomes while the reported use of positive punishment was associated with reporting more negative outcomes. Educating service dog organizations and recipients about the impacts of training methods could be beneficial for service dog efficacy and welfare.
- Additionally, this study suggests that service dogs do not suffer as a result of their ‘job’ and do not appear to enjoy any less life satisfaction than pet dogs.
- The effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions
- Rodriguez, Kerri E., Jessica Bibbo, and Marguerite E. O’Haire. “The effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions.” Disability and rehabilitation (2018): 1-9.
- This cross-sectional survey of 147 individuals (97 with a service dog, 57 on a waitlist to receive a service dog) suggests service dogs have measurable effects on specific aspects of psychosocial health for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions, and that having a service dog leads to better emotional, social and professional functioning.
- Of the psychosocial functioning subscales studied, the presence of a service dog had the largest impact on work/school functioning. This finding is supported by studies which have found that the presence of a dog can increase social interaction and engagement in classrooms and in the workplace.
- Incorporating animal-assisted therapy in mental health treatments for adolescents: A systematic review of canine assisted psychotherapy
- Jones, M. G., Rice, S. M., & Cotton, S. M. (2019). Incorporating animal-assisted therapy in mental health treatments for adolescents: A systematic review of canine assisted psychotherapy. PloS one, 14(1), e0210761.
- This systematic review concludes there is emerging evidence to suggest that Canine-Assisted Psychotherapy (CAP) improves the efficacy of mental health treatments in self-selected adolescent populations via reductions in primary symptomatology, and via secondary factors that improve therapeutic processes and quality, such as engagement and retention.
- The two studies that used an RCT design provided promising results, indicating a reduction in clinical symptoms over and above treatment as usual for global functioning and internalising (emotional) problems.
- This review was also the first systematic review of AAT for participants in the distinct developmental period of adolescence. A number of questions have arisen from the current literature namely, what are the specific interactions or elements that create change and for which participants? Some excellent recommendations to improve the quality of the literature have been made in previous reviews including: clear and accurate use of terminology to describe interventions, such as those developed by the IAHAIO; ensure therapeutic interventions are distinguished from brief unstructured activities; and calls for standardization (manualisation) of interventions to improve treatment fidelity and replicability.
- Effects of Dog Assisted Therapy for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Trial
- Wijker, C., Leontjevas, R., Spek, A., & Enders-Slegers, M. J. (2019). Effects of Dog Assisted Therapy for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-11.
- The results of this exploratory study on the effects of animal assisted therapy (AAT) on adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) showed that, compared to the waiting list control group, AAT with a dog reduced perceived stress and agoraphobia symptoms in adults with ASD.
- Furthermore, the results implied that AAT reduced impairments in social responsiveness as rated by participants’ spouses, close family members, or friends. There was an indication that depressive symptoms reduced due to the therapy. The analyses implied that these effects, small to medium in size, remained at the 10-week follow-up. Furthermore, the adherence rate for this study was 98%, which is higher than reported in other ASD studies.
- Equine assisted activities and therapies in children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and a meta-analysis
- Trzmiel, T., Purandare, B., Michalak, M., Zasadzka, E., & Pawlaczyk, M. (2019). Equine assisted activities and therapies in children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and a meta-analysis. Complementary therapies in medicine, 42, 104-113.
- A total of 390 participants (aged: 3–16 years) from 15 articles were included in the review.
- The overwhelming majority of the available reports demonstrated high effectiveness of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT), especially with regard to improved social functioning.
- Despite the need for further research, the results of the studies included in this review allow us to conclude that EAAT may be a useful form of therapy in children with ASD.
The Human-Animal Bond
- Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs
- Kaminski, Juliane, et al. “Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019): 201820653.
- This study suggests that facial muscles in dogs evolved over the years as the result of domestication. The results show dogs now possess eyebrow movement that resembles the movement humans produce when sad, triggering a nurturing response. Researchers hypothesize this expression is the result of selection based on humans’ preferences.
- Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans
- Vitale, Kristyn R., Alexandra C. Behnke, and Monique AR Udell. “Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans.” Current Biology 29.18 (2019): R864-R865.
- This study suggests that (despite popular opinion!) cats are capable of bonding to and forming connections with humans at a rate similar to, or even greater than, dogs.
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