How Dogs Can Enhance Patient Recovery

Research has shown that dogs can improve our health in many ways by encouraging a more active lifestyle, providing companionship, and being a source of company and unconditional love for many. However, they can also help human beings recover from life-saving operations, and a plethora of diseases and conditions, both physical and mental. This post highlights the findings of just a few important studies on the link between pet ownership and a speedier recovery.

Dog Therapy in Hospitals

Hospitals can be lonely, stressful places for patients who are facing illness far away from the comfort of their homes and their family and pets, with studies indicating that patients often rate the overall experience of hospitalization low. Stressors include pain, lack of sleep, and a lack of familiarity with the environment, all of which can negatively impact recovery and wellbeing.

Some hospitals have adopted alternative therapies, including pet therapy, to create a more holistically healing environment.

A 2009 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, looked into the effects of dog therapy for hospitalized patients. Researchers found that patients who enjoyed the company of dogs while in hospital, reported improved levels of pain, energy and mood scores. They also reported feeling calmer, more relaxed and engaged and happier.

In the study, dogs were only allowed to be with patients for 10 minutes; researchers believe that reports would have been even more positive, if the time of the therapy were extended.

In one study published in Oncology Nursing Forum, adult patients undergoing radiotherapy were found to view their health as improved, with scientists concluding that pets have the ability to lower anxiety and serve as welcome distractions from illness. Similar findings have been obtained from studies on dog therapy for children with cancer, hospitalized psychiatric patients, and more.

Dog Therapy at Home

There is no reason why dog therapy cannot continue to work its magic at home. Studies have shown that animal assisted therapy has positive effects on mood, energy levels and self-perceived health and there is no reason why patients cannot continue to avail of its effects at home.

The calming effect dogs have extend to regular dog ownership. One recent study by researchers at University of Missouri Health found that senior adults benefit greatly from dog ownership, one reason being that dogs encourage their human owners to go for walks – an activity which in itself is an important part of recovery from surgery and injury. Other studies have shown that dog ownership lowers the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.

If children or grandchildren live in or visit the home, please follow these tips for a harmonious relationship with the dogs.

Dogs and Home Safety

Research has additionally shown that dogs can help their owners feel safer, especially when they sleep in the same room. Home safety is a big issue for seniors, who can often feel insecure about fires, falling, or staircases. Seniors should minimize home safety risks, by removing low furniture, carpets and other fall risks, and installing grab bars and other structures which can reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

A dog can help lift their mood and encourage them to walk, which is vital to maintain muscular strength and avoid fractures, but it is vital to ensure pets aren’t a fall risk. Seniors should always identify where their dog is when walking from one side of the room to the other, or from room to room. Motion sensor lights can help reduce the likelihood of dogs posing a fall risk in dark conditions.

Study after study has shown how useful pets can be to recovery, but the reasons – which include an improved mood, greater vitality, and lower stress – can be availed of at home as well. Creating a safe environment at home is key, however, so that dogs can provide their unconditional love and entertainment without posing a fall risk.

Submitted by Chrissy Jones

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