Therapy dogs have been used in hospitals for decades to help patients cope with their ailments. The idea is simple: dogs are incredibly friendly and comforting, and their presence can help reduce stress and anxiety in patients. But do therapy dogs actually help patients? In this article, we’ll explore the evidence and see what experts have to say about the effectiveness of therapy dogs in hospitals.
What Are Therapy Dogs?
Therapy dogs are specially trained dogs that provide comfort and support to people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. These dogs are trained to be calm, friendly, and obedient, and they are often used to help people cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues.
Therapy dogs are different from service dogs, which are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. While therapy dogs are not specifically trained to do anything other than provide comfort and support, they are still highly trained and well-behaved dogs.
The Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Hospitals
There are many benefits to using therapy dogs in hospitals. For one, dogs are incredibly friendly and comforting animals, and their presence alone can help reduce stress and anxiety in patients. Additionally, therapy dogs have been shown to have a number of physical benefits, including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing heart rate
- Decreasing stress hormones
- Increasing levels of oxytocin (the “love hormone”)
These physical benefits can have a significant impact on a patient’s overall health and well-being. For example, lower blood pressure and heart rate can help reduce the risk of heart disease, while decreased stress hormones can help boost the immune system.
The Evidence for Therapy Dogs in Hospitals
There is a growing body of evidence to support the use of therapy dogs in hospitals. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers found that therapy dogs were effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in hospitalized patients. Another study, published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing in 2018, found that therapy dogs were effective in reducing stress and anxiety in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
While these studies are promising, it’s important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of therapy dogs in hospitals. Additionally, therapy dogs may not be appropriate for all patients, particularly those with allergies or a fear of dogs.
How Do Therapy Dogs Help Patients?
So how do therapy dogs actually help patients? There are a few different ways:
1. Physical Benefits
As mentioned earlier, therapy dogs can have a number of physical benefits, including lowering blood pressure and reducing stress hormones. These physical benefits can have a significant impact on a patient’s overall health and well-being.
2. Emotional Support
Therapy dogs are incredibly friendly and comforting animals, and their presence alone can help reduce stress and anxiety in patients. Additionally, therapy dogs provide emotional support to patients, which can be incredibly valuable, particularly for patients who may be feeling isolated or alone.
Therapy dogs can also provide a welcome distraction for patients who may be feeling anxious or stressed. By interacting with the dog, patients can take their minds off of their illness or condition, even if only for a few minutes.
Overall, the evidence suggests that therapy dogs can be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues in hospitalized patients. While more research is needed to fully understand the benefits of therapy dogs, it’s clear that these animals can provide valuable support to patients in a variety of settings.
If you or a loved one are in the hospital, consider asking your healthcare provider about therapy dog programs in your area. With their friendly demeanor and comforting presence, therapy dogs may be just what you need to feel a little bit better.