For centuries dogs have been recognised as valuable therapeutic companions. The famous nurse Florence Nightingale noted this fact during the 1860s. She would have seen the suffering inflicted on casualties of the Crimean War. Today animal-assisted healing is used less for traumatic wounds and more for naturally occurring chronic pain conditions. In recent years this holistic treatment has begun to be taken more seriously by the medical community.
There are numerous conditions which can cause chronic pain. Some of them, such as an osteoarthritis hip, can hinder mobility. Many such disorders are long term and difficult for people to treat. Rather than removing the source of the pain, patients are forced to manage it. In these cases, a therapy dog can be a beneficial way to increase someone’s quality of life.
People tend to live longer nowadays, thanks to improvements in medicine. The problem is that as a person advances in age, their chances of developing a painful condition increases. This is especially true when it comes to joint issues. Due to lack of mobility, elderly patients may spend much of their day in an inactive state. This can increase the chances of low mood. When therapy dogs visit retirement homes, they have been shown to make the residents happier and take their minds off the pain.
Those with disabilities may have to endure pain from an early age. The intensity of it may make it resistant to traditional painkillers. As a result, doctors are forced to turn to new treatments. Therapy dogs have proven to be popular in children’s hospitals and schools. They manage to distract young patients from both their physical symptoms and mental distress.
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterised by fatigue as well as muscle and bone pain which cannot be easily explained. While often debilitating for patients, there is no single cure and sufferers usually have to rely on self-care. There have been cases when therapy dogs visited fibromyalgia sufferers and had positive effects on their overall well-being. Fatigue, pain and distress significantly diminished.
Reasons For Their Effectiveness
More research needs to be done on the exact reasons why therapy dogs seem to alleviate pain. One theory is that contact with a therapy dog releases endorphins. These are the natural painkillers for the human body. This same reaction also reduces the amount of cortisol, which is a stress-causing hormone.
There are other physical benefits which have been reported. Heart rates and blood pressure can decrease. The breathing rates of people can stabilise to a healthy level. The immune system may also be given a boost. There is a clear link between chronic pain and mental illness. When the pain diminishes, the patient tends to be in a better mood. It seems likely that therapy dogs will be even more recognised as useful tools in the near future.