Accessibility statement

Animal-assisted Interventions

Woman with a dog

Animal-assisted and robotic animal-assisted interventions

Animal-assisted interventions and robotic animal interventions are becoming increasingly popular to support the care of clinical populations and may have the potential to improve a range of psychosocial outcomes. We are developing a portfolio of work in this area. Example projects are below:

AD ASTRA: Adjunctive dog-assisted interventions and research: Extending methodological guidelines for robust intervention research and preparing the grounds for a definitive trial
We are delighted to have been awarded a NIHR Programme Development Grant to lay the foundations for a large programme of research on dog-assisted interventions in mental health populations. 
Despite a lack of robust scientific evidence and best practice guidance, dog-assisted interventions are increasingly implemented in NHS settings to improve mental health outcomes. Dog-assisted interventions are complex interventions that, due to the presence of an animal and third parties, require unique considerations for research design, conduct and reporting. The need for more rigorous research in this area is recognised. We aim to develop dog-assisted intervention-specific extensions to complement gold standard guidelines for designing and reporting intervention research (SPIRIT and CONSORT), preparing the ground for a robust randomised controlled trial (RCT) of a dog-assisted intervention in a priority population. Watch this space for more information!

Animal-assisted and robotic animal-assisted interventions with dementia care

We conducted a systematic review to identify, describe, and compare animal-assisted and robotic animal interventions delivered to people with dementia, their characteristics, effectiveness, and the proposed mechanisms underlying any potential impact. Our review formulated an initial programme theory of how animal-assisted and robotic animal interventions may ‘work’ within dementia care.

We also conducted exploratory research to expand our understanding of the context in which a robotic animal intervention is provided within inpatient dementia care, its outcomes, and potential mechanisms underlying any potential impacts. We conducted observations of these sessions and interviews with healthcare professionals, people with dementia, and their relatives. By including the perspectives of individuals involved in the delivery or receipt of the robotic animal intervention, we will refine the initial programme theory formulated in our systematic review that may explain why robotic animal interventions work in this setting.

The impact of Covid-19 on animal-assisted interventions

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a widespread shift in health services delivery from in-person to virtual platforms. This has also affected the delivery of animal-assisted interventions, with organisations delivering interventions virtually during lockdown periods. Virtual delivery constitutes a substantial deviation from the way these interventions are usually delivered, based on an inherent sense that ‘live interaction’ including sensory engagement with the animal (e.g., through touch) are essential intervention components. We conducted a small-scale survey with UK intervention providers to explore the impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of animal-assisted interventions during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the associated challenges and opportunities.

If you would like to discuss project ideas, please contact Dr Elena Ratschen.