Both of my dogs are hospital therapy dogs, visiting patients and staff and spreading cheer and comfort. While most people are delighted to see a tail-wagging pup prancing down the hospital halls, some people wonder why an animal is in the hospital. When you’re a therapy dog handler, you can think of lots of great answers to the question, “Why is there a dog in the hospital?”
- “The CAT scanner was broken, so we called in the dog.”
- “He’s a new cost saving initiative –he works for dog bones.”
- “What?! A dog?! Why I thought this new intern was a little too hairy.”
The real answer, of course, is because dogs and other pets who do therapy work provide healing calm, stress relief, and mood improvement that can substantially enhance medical treatments people are receiving while in the hospital.
Animal therapy may include a wide range of animals, most commonly pet dogs, cats, and rabbits. Animal therapy can also include horses and even dolphins. Medical research has shown substantial health benefits when animals are included as part of a therapy program. Here’s a sample of some studies proving the healing power of animal therapy:
- Adding an aquarium to the dining area of a nursing home facility for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease resulted in increased food intake and weight for 87 percent of people. The average person ate over 20 percent more of their food when eating in the room with the aquarium. Adding a photo of an aquarium to the room didn’t result in any improvements.
- Putting a therapy dog next to children being treated by a dentist significantly reduced the children’s anxiety reactions.
- Patients with advanced heart disease admitted to a cardiac care unit were visited by a friendly volunteer alone or with a therapy dog. Researchers measured stress hormones and heart function after visits. Measures of heart stress improved in both groups, with significantly better improvements after the dog visit.
- Studies in both outpatients with chronic pain and hospital patients show significant reductions in pain levels after spending 10-20 minutes petting a therapy dog.
Given the wide range of improvements that can occur from animal therapy, a better question might be, “Where’s the therapy dog and when will my mom/dad/brother get a visit?”