Animal-Assisted Interventions in Dutch Nursing Homes: A Survey

Lonneke Schuurmans*, Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers, Theo Verheggen, Jos Schols

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) have become more and more popular in nursing homes in the past decade. Various initiatives for using animals in nursing homes have been developed over the years (eg, animal visiting programs, residential companion animals, petting zoos) and, on the whole, the number of nursing homes that refuse animals on their premises has declined. In this survey, we aimed to determine how many Dutch nursing homes offer AAIs, what type of interventions are used, and with what aim. We also focus on the use of underlying health, hygiene, and (animal) safety protocols. Methods: Using an online Dutch nursing home database, we invited all listed (457) nursing home organizations in the Netherlands (encompassing a total of 804 nursing home locations) to participate in our digital survey, powered by SurveyMonkey. The survey consisted of a total of 45 questions, divided into general questions about the use of animals in interventions; the targeted client population(s); and specific questions about goals, guidelines, and protocols. The results were analyzed with SPSS Statistics. Results: In the end, 244 surveys, representing 165 organizations, were returned: 125 nursing homes used AAI in one way or another, 40 did not. Nursing homes that did not offer AAI cited allergy and hygiene concerns as the most important reasons. Most nursing homes offering AAI used visiting animals, mostly dogs (108) or rabbits (76). A smaller number of nursing homes had resident animals, either living on the ward or in a meadow outside. Almost all programs involved animal-assisted activities with a recreational purpose; none of the participating nursing homes provided animal assisted therapy with therapeutic goals. Psychogeriatric patients were most frequently invited to participate. A total of 88 nursing homes used alternatives when animals were not an option or not available. The most popular alternative was the use of stuffed animals (83) followed by FurReal Friends robotic toys (14). The sophisticated robot seal Paro was used in 7 nursing homes. A large percentage (80%) of nursing homes that worked with animals did not have AAI-specific health protocols or animal welfare and safety protocols underlying the animal activities or specific selection criteria for the selection of suitable animals. Conclusion: Most of the participating Dutch nursing homes offer AAI in recreational programs (animal-assisted activities) for psychogeriatric clients (using visiting animals, especially dogs). Most nursing homes do not have specific AAI protocols for animal welfare, hygiene, and safety during animal activities, nor do they employ specific selection criteria for participating animals and their handlers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-653
JournalJournal of the American Medical Directors Association
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Animal-assisted interventions
  • nursing homes
  • animal welfare
  • hygiene
  • safety
  • survey

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