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Spending just 10 minutes with a therapy dog can help hospital patients feel better

A study has found they reduce pain, anxiety and depression in patients.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Just 10 minutes with a therapy dog can dramatically lift the spirits of hospital patients, according to new research.

It was found to reduce pain, depression and anxiety by nearly half compared to those without a therapy dog.

As most owners will testify, man's best friend brings an enormous sense of trust. For many people, this can be hugely beneficial.

In recent years there has been a move towards more dogs being welcomed onto wards for their calming reassurance.

In the UK, dogs who have been behaviorally assessed regularly visit hospices, nursing homes and special needs schools.

The practice is still relatively uncommon in hospitals. Now a study has found they reduce pain, anxiety and depression in patients.


Lead author Dr. Ben Carey, of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, said: "Pain is a primary reason individuals attend an Emergency Department (ED) - and its management is a concern."

The findings are based on around 200 ED patients at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

Around half were assigned to spend 10 minutes with a dog - with the others acting as a control.

Pain, anxiety and depression reduced by 43, 48 and 46 percent, respectively, in the former group. Wellbeing improved by 41 percent.

They were measured on 11 point rating scales before, immediately after and 20 minutes post-therapy St John Ambulance dog team visit.

Blood pressure and heart rate were also recorded at the different time points.

Dr. Carey said: "Clinically significant changes in pain as well as significant changes in anxiety, depression and well-being were observed in the therapy dog intervention compared to control.

"The findings of this novel study contribute important knowledge towards the potential value of ED therapy dogs to affect patients' experience of pain, and related measures of anxiety, depression and well-being."

The main reason patients visit a hospital ED is to address pain and these account for approximately 80 percent of all visits.

An ongoing concern with quality of care is it is inadequately managed, in part because of long wait times.

Constant bright lighting and noise levels may also disrupt patients' rest patterns

Dr. Carey said: "This can slow down the recovery process and prolong patients' symptoms of pain."

Visiting therapy dog teams have been increasingly common in North American healthcare settings over the past decade.

Dr. Carey said: "The therapy dog intervention group had a greater reduction in reported pain compared to the control group.

"Heart rate and blood pressure were not impacted by the visiting therapy dog teams.

"The clinical significance of these findings are meaningful and require further attention and study."

The Royal College of Nursing has long been an advocate of dogs on hospital wards - and has even suggested they accompany patients into operating theatres.

Added Dr. Carey: "Decreasing patient pain is an important health issue for Canadian EDs

"This research is one of a handful of ED specific visiting therapy dog studies, and the only one known to these authors to focus on therapy dog team visits, patient pain, anxiety, depression, and well-being

"It is also one of a limited number of controlled study designed studies in the animal assisted intervention field.

"It follows that observing a clinically significant change in pain, as well as significant changes in anxiety, depression and wellbeing is an important contribution to the literature and for future research and practice."

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

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