Dogs provide us company in our solitary hours, and now new research has shown that therapy dogs can improve anxiety levels of pediatric cancer patients and their parents.
Many hospitals have therapy dogs who visit patients. During the visits, children pet or talk to the dog, brush its fur, view the dog's photos, watch the dog practicing tricks or commands, and learn about dog breeds.
In preliminary investigation of an ongoing study to be concluded in 2016, the researchers collected data on blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels of children before and after a weekly visit from a therapy dog.
Preliminary findings show that blood pressure readings in the group receiving animal-assisted interventions remains more stable across all sessions than in the control group, said lead researcher Amy McCullough, national director of humane research and therapy, American Humane Association.
Similarly, there was a higher degree of variability in heart rate within the control group patients than with the treatment group patients. "These findings suggest that the dog may have a calming effect on the patient," McCullough said.
To date, 68 children aged three to 17 who are newly diagnosed with cancer have been enrolled in the study, including 39 in the treatment group and 29 in the control group. Preliminary results indicate the canine encounters also appear to improve anxiety levels among parents, the study said.
"This study will be a milestone in understanding the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals," McCullough said. The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in Washington DC.