Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) is a promising treatment approach for pain, but possible mechanisms still need to be elucidated. This study set out to investigate the analgesic effects of an animal provided with a treatment rationale in a randomized controlled trial employing a standardized experimental heat-pain paradigm. We randomly assigned 128 healthy participants to: dog treatment (DT), placebo treatment (PT), dog and placebo treatment (DPT), and no treatment (NT). Primary outcomes were heat-pain tolerance and the corresponding self-reported ratings of pain unpleasantness and intensity. Results revealed no differences in heat-pain tolerance between the conditions. However, participants in the DT condition experienced heat-pain as significantly less unpleasant at the limit of their tolerance compared to participants in the NT condition (estimate = -0.96, CI = -1.58 to 0.34, P = .010). Participants in the DT condition also showed lower ratings of pain intensity at the limit of their tolerance compared to participants in the NT condition (estimate = -0.44, CI = -0.89 to 0.02, P = .060). This study indicates that a dog has analgesic effects on pain perception when integrated into the treatment rationale. We assume that providing a treatment rationale regarding the animal is important in AAIs for pain. Perspective: This study shows that the presence of an animal is not sufficient for animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) to have an analgesic effect on pain unless they are provided with a treatment rationale. This could imply that not only the animal but also contextual factors are important in AAIs. Trial registration: Clinical Trials NCT04361968.
- contextual factor