Therapy Dogs to Get Evidence-Based Medicine Treatment
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, November 03, 2015 09:16 AM

Visits with therapy dogs have been known to improve a patient's mood, but researchers here are conducting a clinical trial to actually measure the benefit -- if there is one -- to pediatric cancer patients.

Children ages 3-17 who are within the first 4 months of their cancer diagnosis and their parents are randomly selected to receive either their standard of care treatment for diagnosis only or their standard care treatment plus 15-minute regular visits from a registered therapy dog. The study is ongoing, with data collection continuing through late 2015.

Most hospitals have some pet therapy program, but they wanted to see if the benefits to the patients outweighed the risk of bringing a dog into a hospital.  "They have been allowing therapy dogs in hospital for years, but there's not any science behind it.  We really want to show with some scientific rigor that children are experiencing good health outcomes."

Researchers collect data on the child, measuring his or her blood pressure and pulse before and after the dog visits. The child's parents also fill out a stress and anxiety survey. Even Butler gets to be part of the study, as his visits are videotaped to make sure researchers do not observe signs of stress in the dog, and his cortisol levels are taken before and after the visit. The dog's handler is also interviewed to determine whether the visits are distressing the dog.

So far, the results for at least the dogs have been encouraging. McCullough said that dogs' cortisol levels have not been elevated, which indicates they are not overly stressed by the visits. She added that the handlers generally report that the dogs seem to enjoy the program.