Puppy Therapy, also known as Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the term most often used when animals are utilized as a therapeutic modality.
AAT is used in a variety of settings by nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, and psychologists, along with additional health professionals. It is utilized for a variety of conditions in children, adults, and older adults. If you are allergic to dogs, please let us know ahead of time.
Our clinic employs two dogs. Ruger is a Siberian Husky (born Jan. 2016) and Chico, a Chihuahua (born Dec. 2004). They are both very friendly and our patients enjoy petting, playing and interacting with the dogs. The Fuhrmann Health Center is the only conservative care clinic in the area to offer this free service. For people who suffer from chronic or acute pain, interaction with dogs may be helpful in reducing the pain, reducing depression/anxiety, and improving mood. The best news is that brief interactions may make a significant difference.
There is a lot of research supporting AAT. In 2012, a study looked into the effects of AAT on patients with chronic pain who attended a pain management clinic (1) Some patients received brief therapy dog visits during their time in a waiting room. Others did not receive a therapy dog intervention in the waiting room. Overall, researchers found that pain, fatigue, stress, and mood were significantly improved for the patients who received the intervention. There was no improvement in these factors for those who did not receive the therapy dog visits.
In 2013, a follow-up study was done with fibromyalgia patients(2). Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain that is accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. The setting and methods were similar to the previous study. Findings were also quite similar. For the patients who received the brief therapy dog visits (only about 12 minutes), significant improvements were reported for pain, mood, and measures of distress. Again, these improvements were not experienced by the patients who did not receive therapy dog visits.
Yet another study addressed the occurrence of depression in cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy(4). Participants were being treated for a number of cancers, including breast, gastrointestinal tract, lung, head and neck, and other organs. AAT was provided in 20-minute sessions by a trained therapy dog and its trainer while patients underwent chemotherapy. It was found that the patients who participated in the AAT had a noticeable self-reported reduction in depression immediately following their treatments. This was not found in patients undergoing chemotherapy who did not receive AAT.
One study to take note of looked at the effect of short visits with therapy dogs and the effect on acute pain(3). This study looked at patients who were recovering from total joint replacement surgery. Patients who participated in daily visits with the therapy dogs required less pain medication than patients who did not receive the therapy.
In this study, blood levels of oxytocin (a hormone that serves many functions, but is well-known as having an important role in decreasing stress and anxiety) were analyzed intermittently in dog owners while interacting with their pets(5). Overall, oxytocin levels peaked after only one to five minutes of normal interaction with the dogs. Also, the owners’ heart rates reduced significantly after about an hour of interaction, indicating that the owners achieved a more relaxed state.
Marcus DA, Bernstein CD, Constantin JM, et al. Animal-assisted therapy in an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Med 2012; 13: 45-57.
Marcus DA, Bernstein CD, Constantin JM, et al. Impact of animal-assisted therapy for outpatients with fibromyalgia. Pain Med 2013; 14: 43-51.
Havey J, Vlasses, FR, Vlasses, PH, et al. The effect of animal-assisted therapy on pain medication use after joint replacement. Arthrozoos 2014; 27 (3): 361.
Orlandi M, Trangeled K, Mambrini A, et al. Pet therapy effects on oncological day hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Anticancer Research 2007; 27: 4301-4304.
Handlin L, Hydbring-Sandberg E, Nilsson A, et al. Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners: effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate—an exploratory study. Anthrozoos 2011; 24 (3): 301-315.