Pon­der­ing the pet pre­scrip­tion

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Ev­ery­body knows that ther­apy an­i­mals help im­prove the well­be­ing of hospi­tal pa­tients. But when Pro­fes­sor Anna Chur-Hansen and her team at the Univer­sity of Ade­laide in Aus­tralia started root­ing around in the re­search, it turned out there wasn’t much data to back up that tru­ism.

“If you speak with most people, they’ll say it’s a good thing for an­i­mals such as dogs and cats to be taken into hos­pi­tals, so that pa­tients can de­rive some form of ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect from their as­so­ci­a­tion with the an­i­mals,” Chur-Hansen, the lead au­thor of re­search pub­lished re­cently in the jour­nal An­thro­zoös, said in a news re­lease.

It’s not that let­ting pa­tients cud­dle with Fluffy or Bowser is bad. There just doesn’t seem to be much hard ev­i­dence on the ben­e­fits of ther­apy an­i­mals.

“The sci­en­tific world has done such a poor job of re­search­ing this field that no one can truly say what the ben­e­fits are, how they work, or whether such a sit­u­a­tion causes prob­lems or dis­tress— or the ex­act op­po­site—for the an­i­mals them­selves,” said ChurHansen, who heads the univer­sity’s School of Psy­chol­ogy.

Re­searchers from the univer­sity’s School of An­i­mal and Vet­eri­nary Sci­ences also as­sisted with the project, which looked at stud­ies world­wide of “an­i­mal in­ter­ven­tions” in­volv­ing chil­dren in health­care set­tings.

The find­ings seemed to show that the ben­e­fits of ther­apy an­i­mals are what for­mer Sec­re­tary of De­fense Don­ald Rums­feld would call a “known un­known.”

“The as­sump­tion is that these pro­grams are ben­e­fi­cial—and from the lit­tle ev­i­dence avail­able, they are likely to be—but no one has yet fully as­sessed the range of is­sues as­so­ci­ated with the hu­man-an­i­mal bond in the health­care set­ting,” Chur-Hansen said.

What ex­actly can a visit from a ther­apy dog do for a pa­tient? Aus­tralian re­searchers says the jury is still out on the pre­cise mea­sur­able ben­e­fits.

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