Objective: To study the direct physiological and emotional impact of an animal-assisted activity (AAA) session (a form of complementary and integrative medicine) in patients with fibromyalgia (FM). Patients and Methods: The study population consisted of 221 participants with FM who were attending Mayo Clinic's Fibromyalgia Treatment Program between August 5, 2017, and September 1, 2018. This was a randomized controlled trial. Participants were randomly assigned to either the treatment group (a 20-minute session with a certified therapy dog and handler) or the control group (a 20-minute session with a handler only). To gain a better understanding of the direct physiological and emotional effects of AAA in patients with FM, we used multiple noninvasive physiologic-emotional biomarkers, including salivary cortisol and oxytocin concentrations, tympanic membrane temperatures, and various cardiac parameters, in addition to standardized pain and mood-based questionnaires. Results: Results show a decrease in heart rate, an increase in heart rate variability, an increase in well-being survey scores, an increase in salivary oxytocin, and subsequent tympanic membrane temperature changes, suggesting that participants in the treatment group were in a more positive emotional-physiologic state as a result of the AAA session compared with the control group. Conclusion: Our results suggest that a 20-minute therapy dog visit in an outpatient setting can significantly and positively impact the physical and mental health of patients with FM.
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