Furry Friends May Be Stress Relievers for Kids With Cancer

Furry Friends May Be Stress Relievers for Kids With Cancer

Furry Friends May Be Stress Relievers for Kids With Cancer

'Therapy dogs' appear to help ease heart rate, anxiety in children fighting the disease

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Oct. 23, 2015

FRIDAY, Oct. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- For kids battling cancer, relief from the stress of their situation may come on four legs, a new study shows.

In the study, so-called "therapy dogs" seemed to provide these children with both physical and mental benefits.

"The dog may have a calming effect on the patient," lead researcher Amy McCullough, national director of humane research and therapy at the American Humane Association, explained in a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The study findings are scheduled to be presented Sunday at the AAP's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

In the study, McCullough's team looked at outcomes for 68 children, aged 3 to 17, who were newly diagnosed with cancer. The kids were divided into two groups, where one group received weekly visits from a therapy dog and the other group did not.

As the authors explained, during the visits the children petted or talked to the friendly pooch, brushed its fur, watched the dog do tricks or follow commands, learned about dog breeds, and looked at pictures of the dog.

The result? The researchers found that blood pressure readings were typically lower and heart rates more stable among the children visited by the dogs than among those who didn't get the visits. The dog visits also appeared to reduce anxiety levels, McCullough's team said.

McCullough said that the findings will help in the "understanding of the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals."

Experts note that findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The Good Dog Foundation has more on animal-assisted therapy.

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