Prescription Pups: The Benefits of Therapy Dogs

From autistic kids to people with chronic pain, they have been shown to be beneficial without any real side effects. They are not miracle pills, they are pups. Today we take a look at how dogs are making a difference in healthcare.

It may be hard to believe.

"I did not really believe it until, you know, I got here," says Sgt. Matthew Krumweide who was injured in Afghanistan.

But a dog is kind of like a drug. Sergeant Matthew Krumweide lost both legs and severely injured his arm in Afghanistan.

"I stepped on an IED," explains Sgt. Krumweide.

Rehab's been hard, but Kelsie makes it easier.

Matthew says, one day during physical therapy, he was struggling while working on his arm's range of motion.

He tells us when Kelsie came in, the pain went away.

"We were able to get there, says Sgt. Krumweide. “Get to 90 degrees."

Doctor Elizabeth Johnson believes therapy dogs are making a difference.

"Just probably the most holistic approach to treatment that I think is out there," expalisn Elizabeth Johnson, MD, of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, Medical Director.

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.

Matthew's improving every day. He's working on walking and eventually wants to snow-ski.

"So that is going to be hard,” Sgt. Krumweide says. “I got to work at it."

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.

Prescription Pups: The Benefits of Therapy Dogs
REPORT #1982

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:

For More Information, Contact:

Nanette Madla, Public Affairs
San Antonio Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center
Phone: 210-617-5300 x 15253

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