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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

The Effects of a Therapy Dog on the Blood Pressure and Heart Rate of Older Residents in a Nursing Home

Handlin, L; Nilsson, A; Lidfors, L; Petersson, M; Uvnas-Moberg, K


The aim of the present project was to investigate whether repeated visits by a therapy dog to nursing homes might affect the older residents' systolic blood pressure and heart rate. A secondary aim was to investigate and compare effects (differences in responses) in older people with high and normal systolic blood pressure. The project consisted of two consecutive studies; the dog study (two researchers and a therapy dog with a handler visited the residents at three nursing homes, n = 13), and the control study (the two researchers alone visited the residents at three different nursing homes, n = 13). The studies were divided into three periods; period 1 (weeks 1-2), period 2 (weeks 3-4), and period 3 (weeks 5-6) and included two visits per week. The dog and her handler visited during periods 2 and 3 in the dog study. Participants' heart rate and blood pressure were measured at 0 and 20 minutes at each visit. The data were analyzed using Friedman's two-way analysis of Variance by Rank with post-hoc analysis using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests with a Bonferroni correction, and also with the Mann-Whitney U test for independent samples. In the dog study, participants' heart rate decreased significantly (p = 0.006) from period 1 to period 3. Participants with an initial systolic blood pressure >= 130 mmHg had a significant decrease in both systolic blood pressure (p = 0.009) and heart rate (p = 0.009). In the control study, participants' heart rate and systolic blood pressure did not change significantly. The participants in the dog study had a significantly lower systolic blood pressure during period 3 (p = 0.016) compared with those in the control study. In conclusion, repeated visits by a therapy dog-handler team decreased the older adults' heart rate, and for those with high initial systolic blood pressure, blood pressure also decreased. In addition, systolic blood pressure decreased significantly in the dog group when compared with the control group.


heart rate; human-animal interaction; older adults; systolic blood pressure; therapy dog

Published in

2018, Volume: 31, number: 5, pages: 567-576