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Therapy dogs and their impact on human health | Therapy dog visiting a sick man in the hospital

Therapy dogs and their impact on human health

In a recent article, we discussed what you need to know about therapy dogs: The benefits these uniquely-trained canines bring to the individual with whom they interact, and how hospitals and other facilities are integrating therapy dogs into patient recovery regiments. Here we’ll reveal five ways therapy dogs benefit the patients they serve.

Note: Since the terms therapy dog and service/assistance dog are used interchangeably (and sometimes incorrectly), for the purposes of this article, we describe a therapy dog as one: trained by the owner to work, on a volunteer basis, to benefit others. For example, a therapy dog might work in a nursing home, hospital, or school.

How do patients benefit from therapy dogs?

Faster recovery from injury or illness. Using pets in medical settings is a practice dating back more than a century. Researchers began uncovering the scientific bond between people and their pets: A study in the 1980s found, “heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t.”

Faster recovery from anesthesia. Therapy dogs also have a positive impact on individuals recovering from surgery and the effects of anesthesia. Children randomly selected in a pediatric surgery ward, received a visit from a therapy dog. The children who received the therapy dog visit recovered from anesthesia more quickly than those who didn’t. This certainly seems to indicate that petting and spending time with a dog can benefit patients.

Decrease in pain. A study in Pain Medicine presented patients suffering chronic, debilitating pain the option to wait in the waiting room for their doctor or spend time in a room with a therapy dog. The findings: “Nearly a quarter of those patients who spent time with the therapy dog showed a better than two-point improvement in their pain scores. Only four percent of those patients in the waiting room showed significant improvement.”

Increase physical activity. Individuals recovering from an illness or injury may find simply living with their own dog will help them recover more quickly because they need to care for their pet. A dog will require walking, interaction, feeding, etc. and this could help a recovering individual because he or she will be focusing on the care and well-being of their pet.

Improved wellness through prevention. Pets can increase opportunities for exercise, while decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In a 2017 study featured featured in Scientific Reports,  dog ownership was found to decrease risk of death by 33% and decrease the risk of cardiovascular related death by 36%. Also, pets increase happiness and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness, improving mental health.

Whether your dog is a specially-trained therapy dog or simply provides you comfort and companionship by spending time with you, the studies certainly seem to highlight what we’ve long known: Pets enhance our lives in myriad ways!


Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words MatterMy Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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