While hospitals often welcome therapy dogs within their wards as a means to comfort and uplift patients, the therapeutical benefits of these our best furry friends haven’t actually been proven clinically — that is, until now.
A new study from the University of Saskatchewan shows that a visit of just 10 minutes from a therapy dog can help reduce pain and improve the wellbeing of patients in the emergency room (ER).
“Therapy dogs themselves … they’re just really friendly, family pets that are so excited to visit with people and in places where you don’t typically have a pet,” says study co-author Dr. Colleen Dell. “And just going into the emergency department was a natural.”
As part of the study, published in PLOS One, researchers asked 200 patients in the ER to report on their level of pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest level of pain). One participant group received a visit from a therapy dog while the other did not. After the visit, the researchers asked the patients to report their level of pain again.
Unsurprisingly, those who received a visit from a therapy dog reported lower levels of pain. While the researchers expected these results, they say the study is the first one to prove the benefits of therapy dogs on ER patients in a clinical trial, reports NPR.
Also, the use of therapy dogs has long been part of Indigenous approaches to health, notes Dell, who has researched Indigenous health and mental health. This is likely because these communities have a stronger and much more holistic relationship with animals. This, however, is often not the case in Western societies. The study findings are “speaking Western language,” which could mean that they will reach more people, she says.