How do Dogs Lift Spirits, Boost Health? [Video]

 “A dog can snap you out of any kind of bad mood that you’re in!” That’s what an astute observer has noted. And health care providers have learned something else about dogs. A visit from a cheerful pup can boost patient moods and help with healing.

Many hospitals are connecting patients with the unconditional affection of a friendly dog. They’re doing this by welcoming therapy pets and their volunteer owners. Therapy pets do real work to help improve patient recoveries.

How Do Therapy Pets Help People Heal?

Pet therapy is also known as animal-assisted therapy. The therapy can take place in a hospital, nursing home or hospice setting. A number of pet species can qualify as therapy pets. Dogs are a common therapy pet.

Animals in a therapy pet program visit both adult and pediatric patients. The visits help reduce anxiety and ease fears of patients and family members. The warm bond people enjoy with a sociable dog is the key to pet therapy.

Therapy dogs can be especially helpful in helping patients with a range of conditions. For example:

Patients who own pets and miss them have an especially warm connection with the therapy animals.

Volunteer owners accompany the therapy dogs during the visits. The team usually spends about 10 to 15 minutes with each patient.

The pet visits give patients a welcome opportunity to focus on something positive. They can forget about their medical problems for a while.

Patients with conditions that can cause chronic pain show substantial improvement in pain tolerance and mood. Children with autism spectrum disorder have a significant increase in positive social behaviors.

Studies have found that therapy animals connecting with cancer patients improved patient motivation. This change prompts them to participate in treatments and have more optimism.

Dog temperaments are often matched to patient therapy needs. For more energetic patients such as children, retrievers are a good therapy choice. Walking with a therapy pet can give patients with limited mobility the motivation to get up and get going. For other patients, a small, gentle lap dog can be quietly relaxing and reassuring.

How Can a Patient Connect with Pet Therapy?

Patients or their families can ask caregivers about a pet therapy visit. If the program is available, caregivers can tell you more.

In some cases the doctor or medical staff can request a pet therapy visit. In other cases, when the therapy pet visits a facility, the pets can drop in on willing patients for visits. You can image the buzz that goes through a hospital floor when a friendly dog drops in!

What’s Involved in Being a Therapy Pet?

Dogs are common therapy pets, but other animals can also qualify for the role.

Reputable certification organizations certify therapy dog/owner teams. Aurora Health Care teams are certified by organizations such as Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners.

Preparation to be a therapy team includes obedience training and a veterinarian check that the animal is in good health. Vaccinations must be up to date. The therapy pet certification process is updated annually and helps ensure everyone’s safety. As evidence of the program’s safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have never received a report of infection from pet therapy.

The breed and gender of the therapy pet isn’t important. The key qualities are the pet’s personality and how well the volunteer owner and pet work as a team.

Therapy pets spread joy among the patients, and the dogs seem to enjoy the interaction as well.

Therapy dogs bring a gift to the healing process that’s unmatched by human caregivers. And the therapy companions happily wag their tails while doing it!

If you find pet therapy intriguing, visit Aurora Health Care on Facebook and like us!


Meet the Author

Jim Clark is the Volunteer Services Manager at Aurora St. Luke's in Milwaukee, WI

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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