(Natural News) Families that keep dogs as pets often enjoy the company of these adorable and loyal animals. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, dogs used in pet therapy can also help relieve situational anxiety among hospitalized children.
What is pet therapy?
Pet therapy refers to the guided interaction between an individual, a trained animal, and the animal’s handler. This type of therapy aims to help someone recover from or cope with a physical or mental condition. Pet therapy is also known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT).
While cats and dogs are often used in pet therapy, other animals like fish, guinea pigs, and horses can also be used. The type of animal chosen usually depends on the therapeutic goals of an individual’s treatment plan.
The success of pet therapy relies on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Simply interacting with a friendly pet can help ease several physical and mental issues.
Pet therapy offers many benefits, such as:
- Lowering blood pressure and improving overall heart health
- Promoting the release of endorphins, which produces a calming effect that helps relieve pain, minimizes stress, and improves a person’s overall psychological state
- Making patients happier, relieving depression, and improving one’s outlook on life
- Preventing feelings of loneliness and isolation by giving a patient a companion
- Reducing boredom
- Reducing anxiety because of a therapy pet’s calming effects
Pet therapy is often recommended for:
- Individuals with mental health disorders
- Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Residents in long-term care facilities
- Patients undergoing chemotherapy
- Children undergoing physical or dental procedures
- Individuals hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- Stroke victims
- Individuals undergoing physical therapy to regain motor skills
Defined objectives are an essential part of pet therapy, and a patient’s progress is recorded and tracked at structured sessions.
The goals of a pet therapy program often include improving assisted or independent movement, motor skills, and joint movement. It can also increase someone’s self-esteem and verbal communication. Pet therapy helps develop an individual’s social skills.
Pet therapy and situational anxiety
Data from a study conducted by a nurse research team at Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center revealed that pet therapy visits can significantly reduce anxiety in hospitalized children.
Dr. Katherine Hinic, the lead author of the study, explained that hospitalization can be very stressful for both children and their families. Once the children are taken out of familiar surroundings, they may experience fear, loneliness, pain, or worry. (Related: Dogs as college therapists are on the rise in North America; study finds they help stressed out students feel better.)
Hinic noted that while there has been limited research on how pet therapy affects hospitalized children, their findings suggest that pet therapy visits are an effective complementary therapy. The researchers reported that the therapy dogs used in the study helped decrease anxiety in children while they were undergoing hospital treatment.
For the study, the researchers observed 93 young participants aged six to 17. They compared the children’s anxiety before and after the intervention.
The researchers separated the children into two groups: The first group was visited by a therapy dog, its handler, and a research assistant, while the second group was visited only by a research assistant who instructed the volunteers to complete a puzzle. Both groups were similar to each other and did not differ in key demographic factors or baseline anxiety levels.
The researchers used the State-Trait Anxiety Scale for Children (STAIC) S-Anxiety Scale to measure the children’s anxiety levels before and after the visit. They also asked the children’s parents to complete a brief background questionnaire.
The researchers reported that situational anxiety decreased significantly in both groups. However, the researchers found that children in the pet therapy group experienced a significantly greater decrease in anxiety. Their parents also reported high levels of satisfaction with the pet therapy program.
Peggy Grow, the program manager of Soothing Paws Pet Therapy Program, collaborated with the researchers for the study. Grow coordinated the volunteer dog handler teams who gave the children and their families a remarkable pet therapy experience.
If your children require long-term hospitalization, consider pet therapy to prevent anxiety.