The benefits of therapy dogs

Published On: May 06 2013 10:04:35 PM EDT   Updated On: May 07 2013 06:20:00 AM EDT

From autistic kids to people with chronic pain, they’ve been shown to be beneficial without any real side effects. They aren’t miracle pills, they’re pups, and they are making a real difference in health care.

Sergeant Matthew Krumweide lost both legs and severely injured his arm in Afghanistan.

“I stepped on an IED,” said Krumweide.

Rehab’s been hard, but Kelsie makes it easier. Krumweide says, one day during physical therapy, he was struggling while working on his arm’s range of motion. He says when Kelsie came in, the pain went away.

“We were able to get there. Get to 90 degrees,” he said.

Dr Elizabeth Johnson, Medical Director of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, in San Antonio, Texas, believes therapy dogs are, “Just probably the most holistic approach to treatment that I think is out there.”

A study found therapy dog visits to chronic pain patients led to significant reduction in pain and emotional distress. Research shows therapy dogs also lowered autistic children’s stress hormones or cortisol levels by 48 percent, which points to potential behavioral benefits. Various reports say, pet therapy can help lower anxiety, decrease blood pressure, shorten hospital stays, and improve patient outcomes.

Krumweide’s improving every day. He’s working on walking and eventually wants to snow ski.

“So that’s gonna be hard. I gotta work at it,” he said.

And Kelsie will be close by to help him through it all.

A dog’s gaze can also have an interesting effect on us. A Japanese study found just by looking at their dog an owner’s oxytocin levels increased. It’s the so called “cuddle hormone” produced by the pituitary gland associated with human bonding.

Additional Information:

BACKGROUND: Pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders. (SOURCE:  

WHAT IS ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY?: Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained animals to enhance an individual's physical, emotional, and social well-being, thus improving self-esteem, reducing anxiety and facilitating healing. The use of AAT reportedly dates back to the 1940s, when an army corporal brought his Yorkshire terrier to a hospital to cheer wounded soldiers. There was such a positive response that the dog continued to comfort others for 12 more years. (SOURCE: /


BENEFITS: Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder


And it's not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Pet therapy is also being used in nonmedical settings, such as universities and community programs, to help people deal with anxiety and stress. (SOURCE:  


RISKS FACTORS: 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. It's also important to note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy. (SOURCE:


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