Therapy dogs in hospitals

Dogs are wonderful creatures – and as most dog owners will testify, they bring with them an enormous sense of friendship and trust.  For many people, this can be hugely beneficial and in recent years there has been a move towards more dogs being welcomed in to hospitals, in order to help patients in need of their calming reassurance.  Being in hospital can be an extremely worrying time for lots of patients and being warmly greeted by a furry friend  could help make the whole experience far less stressful for many of them.  As such, last summer, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suggested that dogs and other animals should be allowed into hospitals and has started drawing up guidelines as to how this can happen.  Their hope is that, soon, many more medical institutions will be able to offer the safe and effective use of therapy dogs in hospitals, allowing many more patients to benefit from their companionship.

therapy, dog, hospital

Volunteer dogs

Up until now, volunteer dogs who have been behaviourally assessed, have been visiting hospices, nursing and care homes and special needs schools – yet although the positive benefits of such visits are widely recognised, the practice is still relatively uncommon in hospitals.

RCN research

A study of over 750 nurses carried out by the RCN revealed that over 60 per cent of nursing staff said that animals were not allowed in their workplace.  However, it also showed that nine out of 10 nurses questioned said they believed that animals could improve the wellbeing of patients with mental health problems such as depression, and 60 per cent also felt that the presence of animals in their workplace could well speed up their patient’s physical recovery.  Speaking on the subject, Amanda Cheesley from the RCN said: “I’ve seen patients with animals in hospitals and in their homes – the difference it makes is remarkable.

“The RCN is calling for better, more consistent access to animals for all patients who can benefit, as the evidence is clear that as well as bringing joyful moments to people when they are unwell, the clinical benefits are tangible. Nurses have told us of patients with reduced anxiety, better interaction and a whole reason to live – and we should listen to these experiences.”

How therapy dogs can help

Volunteer dogs are already widely used in the community and can help people suffering from loneliness, providing them with companionship at the times they need it the most.  A dog’s friendly presence can provide a real lifeline for those feeling cut off from their community, and can really help communities tackle issues of social isolation.  Treatment dogs are also helping anxious children with their confidence, as part of a ‘read to dogs scheme’ being run by the charity Pets as Therapy.  Dogs can also really help people suffering from debilitating mental and physical health conditions and illnesses such as Autism, Dementia and Stroke.  Whilst there have been very few robust studies in to the subject, both America and Australia have been embracing animal-assisted therapy.

While few robust scientific studies have been carried out into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy, it has been growing in popularity in the US and Australia.  Let’s hope that the UK follows their lead in the near future!

Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

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