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Ten minutes with a therapy dog can help relieve ER patients

Pain is one of the primary reasons people visit the emergency room and so controlling pain is a major goal for hospitals. In fact, pain accounts for 80 percent of emergency room visits. A new study looks at a novel approach to pain management – therapy dogs. 

Initially, therapy dogs started visiting emergency room waiting areas in Canada as a way to distract patients from long wait times. In one hospital, the trend started to grow, yet there is little research on how dog visits may help emergency room patients. 

A handful of studies in the US and Canada show that patients and hospital workers seem to welcome the presence of dogs and may derive some benefit from them. The new research picks up where these studies left off, providing more insight into the effect of therapy dogs in emergency rooms. 

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, investigated the impact of therapy dogs not only on pain but also on anxiety, depression and overall well-being. Using a scale from one to eleven, these symptoms were measured immediately after a visit by a therapy dog and twenty minutes later at the Royal University Hospital Emergency Department. Heart rate and blood pressure were also recorded. Control groups of similar age, gender and ethnicity had these factors measured 30 minutes apart for comparison. 

The results were interesting, but perhaps not too surprising for many dog owners. After a 10 minute visit by a therapy dog, people reported small but significant drops in pain. Interestingly, men reported more of a drop in anxiety than women in both control and dog visit groups. 

Both men and women had significantly reduced depression and anxiety after the therapy dog visit. The dogs also seemed to improve the patients’ sense of well-being. The study is important in showing the viability of using therapy dogs in emergency rooms. 

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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