Emergency Department (ED) visits are frightening experiences because you never know what could happen next — and such stressing situations, being greeted by a four-legged loving fluffball could make it all much more bearable.
In every given year, around one in five Americans end up in the ED at least once. Most cases involve individuals with urgent symptoms, the most common being abdominal, chest, or nonspecific pain. A new study confirms the positive effect of therapy dogs in an ED setting, finding such visits significantly reduces the perception of pain for patients.
Therapy dogs are loving canines that can go with their owners to volunteer in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes to improve the lives of other people. From working with a child trying to learn how to read to vising a senior in assisted living, these dogs and their handlers are making wonders. There are over 50,000 therapy dogs in the United States alone.
Previous research has confirmed the positive impact of therapy dogs is real. In 2007, researchers at the University of California showed that a 12-minute hospital visit improves cardiopulmonary pressure and anxiety in patients hospitalized with heart failure. The dogs don’t seem to mind it either. If anything, they seem to enjoy it, according to a 2018 study that appeared in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
Pup vs pain
In a new study that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada investigated the effects of therapy dogs on emergency department patients at a local hospital. More than 200 patients participated in the study, who reported their pain levels prior to the intervention.
One group of patients received a 10-minute visit from a therapy dog, while the other half did not. Those who spent 10 minutes with the therapy dog reported significantly less pain, as well as less severe anxiety and depression symptoms.
“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 researchers wrote in their study.
Speaking to NPR, study lead author Dr. Colleen Dell says the use of therapy dogs echoes the Indigenous approach to health, which is holistic and concerned with animals and the land. This controlled trial “is speaking Western language,” said Dell, who is a therapy dog handler herself.