Is medicine going to the dogs? Yes, but in a good way. Pet therapy is gaining fans in health care and beyond. Find out what’s behind this growing trend.
If you’ve ever owned a dog, you already know how much love and affection they can bring. But did you know that dogs also come with some pretty powerful mental and physical health benefits? They can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.
While most dog owners are clear about the immediate joys that come from sharing their lives with canine companions, many remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that accompany a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of dogs, to a reduced risk of heart disease and greater life longevity. Also, Harvard University studied heart attack patients, and those with dogs survived longer than those without.
In 2018 Johns Hopkins Hospital brought Therapy Dogs into the ICU, to safely and substantially ease patients’ physical and emotional suffering. Dale Needham, M.D., Ph.D. of Harvard University states, “Doctors and nurses have traditionally been of the mind-set that if we just give patients the ‘right’ medication, their psychological status will improve. While therapy dogs have long been welcomed as “nonpharmacological interventions” with less sick hospitalized patients, their use with the critically ill is novel for many hospitals.
Does pet therapy have risks? The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.
And while people think of therapy dogs as beneficial to patients, staff who can step away from their stressful work for even the time it takes for a coffee break come back with renewed energy to help their patients.
Imagine that instead of giving a urine sample or getting blood drawn when you need a diagnostic health test, you consult with a dog instead. It’s a funny concept, but your pooch may have more in common with your doctor than you previously thought. We’ve long known that dogs have stronger senses than we do, with their sense of smell getting the most attention. That sense of smell is about 1 million times greater than ours, which is why they’ve been used in tracking and hunting since they became our companion animals. Today, dogs help us find everything from bombs to drugs, and it’s simply amazing what they can do. In addition to smell, many dogs also have a strong “sixth sense”; they just notice things that we don’t.
Doubtless, none of this comes as a surprise to you, especially if you have a dog. But did you know that your dog’s keen senses could actually save your life? Sure, canines are known to alert people about fires or protect them from intruders, but in this case, we’re talking about an internal “intruder,” like cancer. If you think this sounds crazy, you’re not alone; cancer specialist Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, who wrote about the phenomenon for the American Cancer Society’s blog in 2010, admitted to laughing when he first read about a study in which dogs supposedly sniffed out cancer. Lichtenfeld stopped laughing when more studies appeared.
As of now studies have proven specially trained dogs can successfully sniff out and help monitor people with cancer, diabetes, narcolepsy, and migraines.
More than any other animal, dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. While dogs are able to understand many of the words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling (and to work out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course).
Our remarkable dogs have served on the battlefield and become the most loyal companion to humankind, if you were not aware that dogs can be an actual benefit to your health, well now you know. The exciting thing about this is more and more research is done every day and dogs are blowing our minds in all the purposes they can serve.
We are looking forward to seeing how the future of canine medical benefits unfold.