Think Dog!

The Benefits of Pet Therapy

Meet Tilly, the inspiration for our latest article. I was never brought up with dogs and so after years of persistent nagging by my husband followed by an eventual caving in, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when this crazy ball of fluff arrived on our doorstep.


What surprised me most was the sense of wellbeing she inspired in me and the associated boost in physical and mental energy she instilled after my grueling weekend on call. Having sat on the fence previously with regards to the risks and benefits of pet therapy in hospital I am now definitely in favour and intend to take her to see my Grandad on the rehab ward in the next few weeks.


The special relationship between mankind and dogs has been documented for centuries but is it really just a pleasant pastime or something more than that? 


I was happy to hear that in purchasing Tilly we could have reduced our risk of cardiovascular disease according to a recent Swedish study. Whether that be due to increased physical activity, an alteration in our gut bacteria or just the happiness that stems from socialising with your pet; dogs definitely do something for us. The study identified that owning a dog reduced a single persons’ risk of death by 33% and their chances of a heart attack by 11%. I’m pretty sure that’s better than statins! ore positive social interactions. 


This study from Missouri identified positive reductions in blood pressure in participants after 15 minutes of petting an animal as well as reductions in cortisol and increases in serotonin. They even used a robotic dog as a control! 


Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy could therefore be a valuable adjunct in helping to improve both the mental and physical well being of our patients, but is there evidence for it’s use in paediatrics?


If you look you will find, and this literature review from Paediatric Nursing identified an association between pet therapy and reductions in anxiety and pain in the paediatric population. There is a need for further research however with regards to specific subsets of patients. 


There are also recognised benefits for the use of companion dogs in autistic children, from increased safety and reduced parental stress to decreased anxiety and behavioural outbursts. It is theorised that companion dogs can act as a transitional object to facilitate more positive social interactions. 


The issue of infection control is often recognised as a barrier to pet therapy but the Royal College of Nursing has recently recognised that the benefits can not be disregarded and are developing national guidance for the use of animals in hospital settings


Although the evidence base is catching up, the benefits of pet therapy are now recognised widely and its use is increasing. Pets As Therapy is UK registered charity that provides temperament assessed dogs to hospitals, schools, hospices and other establishments as well as performing new research into its benefits. I was delighted to hear that ‘Pia’ is helping children learn to read in the Pencoed area of South Wales and that ‘Leo’ the golden retriever is regularly visiting Southampton Childrens Hospital. 


As it happens I’ve got a mad border collie puppy threatening to chew my laptop if I ignore her much longer. Just wanted to share this little insight and would love to hear any stories about pet therapy in practice, as well as any advice on puppy training! 

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