Daily visits with a specially train dog – even for just five minutes – can significantly reduce the need for pain medication in patients recovering from joint replacement surgery, according to a new study published in the journal Anthrozoos.
Researchers at Loyala University Health System in Chicago studied patients in two different hospitals recovering from a major joint replacement, such as a knee or hip replacement. Each group had 46 patients that were similar in age, gender, ethnicity, length of stay and type of joint replacement.
One group received daily visits from specially trained dogs for an average of 5 to 15 minutes. The other group did not receive animal-assisted therapy.
Researchers found the need for oral pain medication was significantly less (28 percent less) in the animal-assisted therapy group.
“The animal-human connection is powerful in reducing stress and in generating a sense of well-being,” said lead author Julia Havey, RN, of Loyola University Health System. “This study further demonstrates the positive influence animals can have on human recovery.”
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is an animal–human interaction that takes place with varying degrees of involvement on both sides. The animal used is usually a dog, but other animals such as birds, fish, or cats can be used.
Researchers say when the animals and patients are in close proximity to each other and paying attention to each other, they can reduce stress, generate a sense of well-being and promote recovery.
AAT has been used in a variety of health-care settings to improve quality of life and physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive health for patients.
“Healthcare providers and nurses in particular, face challenges to provide compassionate care to offset dehumanizing technology and less ‘face time’ with sicker clients/patients. The presence of animals at the point of care can provide comfort in the face of dehumanizing technology. Incorporation of AAT into the nursing or therapy plan of care can benefit a broad patient population on many levels,” said Harvey.
“This study offers interesting observations about the healing potential of animals,” said co-author Fran Vlasses, PhD, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. “The efficacy of animal-assisted therapy in decreasing the need for pain medication and its effect on patient well-being after surgery deserves further study.”
Even animals that are not specially trained can help reduce stress and pain. National Pain Report columnist Mark Maginn recently wrote about his dog Dylan. Mark and his wife adopted Dylan after finding him at a pet store.
“After about six months we recognized that Dylan was really a therapy dog for me. He had the uncanny ability to sense when the pain in my body began to ratchet up. It took me a while to notice, but whenever I began to feel badly, Dylan would stand next to me patiently waiting. It finally occurred to me that he wanted me to pick him up and put him on my lap,” Maginn wrote.
“He would lie across my lap and chest with his muzzle buried against my neck and stay in that position for nearly an hour. After a time, it slowly came to me that his presence on my lap gradually diminished the pain.”