Dog Visiting Programs for Managing Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults: A Meta-analysis

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Background and Objectives: Depressive symptoms are highly prevalent in older adults and may contribute to functional impairment at old age. Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs), including interventions involving dog visiting, are increasingly recognized as an innovative approach to ameliorate social, behavioral, psychological, and physical outcomes among older adults. However, available data on their potential to manage depressive symptoms in the aging population are not clear cut. The aim of this review was to conduct a meta-analysis of all prospective controlled studies evaluating the effects of dog visiting on depressive symptoms in older adults.

Research Design and Methods: A comprehensive literature search was conducted on the electronic databases PubMed and Scopus. Included articles were published between 1980 and 2017 and report controlled empirical studies of dog visiting interventions to ameliorate depressive symptoms in older adults.

Results: There was substantial heterogeneity between included studies, which varied in their methodological quality, sample size, and other key features. Notwithstanding such methodological variety, results all go in the same direction and indicate a large beneficial effect of interventions involving dog visiting on depressive symptoms.

Discussion and Implications: This analysis confirms the potential value of dog visiting in ameliorating depressive symptoms in institutionalized and noninstitutionalized older adults. This is in line with previous research indicating AAIs as promising complementary programs for preserving/enhancing emotional and behavioral function in aged individuals. More research is still needed to allow AAIs to be effectively introduced in clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Gerontologist
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 23 2018


  • Pet therapy
  • Depression


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