Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2024

Document Type

Doctor of Nursing Practice Final Manuscript

Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing Practice



First Advisor

Joseph Burkard, DNSc, CRNA


Introduction: The purpose of this evidence-based project is to determine if Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) causes improvements in veterans’ feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and suicidality in the acute psychiatric setting during psychiatric evaluations. The project aims to provide veterans with an additional way to experience short-term relief from symptoms while discussing their symptomology with mental health providers.

Background: The prevalence of depression is 20% higher in veterans than in that of the general population. Similarly, it has been shown that 23% of all veterans using VA care have had PTSD at some point in their lives. In the Psychiatric Emergency Clinic (PEC) at the VA in La Jolla, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder are among the most common diagnoses. These patients often struggle with mood lability, anxiety, and avoidance, making it difficult for providers to get a thorough history to guide recommendations. Utilizing animal assisted therapy (AAT) during the appointment may put patients at ease and provide a comforting distraction when discussing emotionally triggering subjects.

Methods: This project evaluates self-reported feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and suicidal urges in 15 veterans both immediately before and immediately after a psychiatric intake where AAT took place. Using the Brief Mood Survey, veterans rated their symptoms in each category on a scale of 0-5. The Brief Mood Survey (BMS) was utilized to determine baseline pre-intervention mood scores, and a post-intervention survey was administered to determine the efficacy of the intervention when compared to baseline.

Results: The BMS scores, which included 5 subscales per category for depression, anger, and anxiety and 2 subscales for suicidal urges, were used to evaluate the efficacy of AAT during psychiatric intakes. The results showed improvements in post-intervention scores compared to pre-intervention scores in all categories, with the most significant improvements seen in the areas of anger and suicidal urges.

Evaluation: The marked improvements that were observed in all mood categories on the BMS suggest that AAT is effective as a supplemental intervention for utilization during psychiatric intakes in the acute psychiatric setting.