Therapy Dogs Help Hospital Patients Take Active Role in Their Recovery & Lowers Pain Perception

    By Kathleen Berger in collaboration with University of Missouri Health Care

     Interacting with animals may help hospital patients heal by reducing stress, anxiety and pain perception. In a recent study from Johns Hopkins, rehabilitation and ICU experts concluded that a therapy animal is a non-pharmacological intervention helping ICU patients become active and engaged in their recovery as early as possible.

    At the University of Missouri Health Care’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Taz makes his rounds. He’s an Australian Shepherd, a breed that is considered an intelligent working dog.

    Taz is a volunteer therapy dog trained to provide comfort, as well as emotional and motivational support. He’s one of many pups that visit MU Health Care’s hospitals and clinics through the Wags program. Each dog is trained, tested and certified through Therapy Dogs International or the MU College of Veterinary Medicine’s PALS program.

    “I think sometimes patients feel isolated. They get out here, it’s lonely, it’s boring. And the dogs are something to look forward to, and when they visit, the whole unit comes alive,” said Kevin Gwin, chief patient experience officer for MU Health Care.

    Research has shown that therapy dogs in hospitals reduce patients’ blood pressure and lower pain perception in children and adults. For ICU patients, Johns Hopkins research shows how it helps them take an active role in their recovery.

    “I think it was really helpful,” said Peyton Waldren.

    Waldren, age 14, experienced those benefits firsthand.

    “I was just really excited because I havenʼt seen a dog in a really long time, so, it made me happy. I didnʼt think about my pain, I didnʼt think about what else was gonna happen,” he said.

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