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Pet therapy: Man's best friend as healer
Who can benefit from animal-assisted therapy?
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.
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.
It's also important to note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy.
Animal-assisted therapy in action
Jack, known as Dr. Jack by his colleagues, is a miniature pinscher and the first facility-based assistance dog (service dog) to join Mayo Clinic's team in Rochester, Minn. A fully credentialed service dog, Jack has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2002.
Jack spends time with patients helping them work toward their recovery goals. For example, Jack and his trainer worked with a 5-year-old girl recovering from spinal surgery. Jack helped her relearn how to walk, taking a step backward each time she took a step forward. She also gave Jack a "checkup" each morning, which helped keep her moving. Eventually, she took Jack for walks with the help of a walker.
In addition to Jack, more than a dozen certified therapy dogs are part of Mayo Clinic's Caring Canines program. They make regular visits to various hospital departments and even make special visits on request.Previous page
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- Jack the dog at your service. In the Loop (blog). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 22, 2010. http://idealab.mayo.edu/intheloop/2010/04/22/meet-the-real-jack-the-service-dog. Accessed July 2, 2012.
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- Adamle KN, et al. Evaluating college student interest in pet therapy. Journal of American College Health. 2009;57:545.
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- Marcus DA. Complementary medicine in cancer care: Adding a therapy dog to the team. Current Pain and Headache Reports. In press. Accessed July 2, 2012.
- Marcus DA, et al. Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Medicine. 2012;13:45.
- What is a therapy dog? American Kennel Club. http://www.akc.org/akctherapydog/about.cfm. Accessed June 25, 2012.
- Theimer SM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 10, 2012.