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Pet Therapy in the Recovery Process

Pet Therapy

Pets can play an important role after surgery. Whether you are an animal lover or new to pets, they provide unconditional love, warmth, support, companionship and a sense of security. A recent study1 looking at the effects of therapy dogs with children undergoing surgical procedures found that animal-assisted therapy facilitated rapid recovery of vigilance and activity after anesthesia. The group that received therapy dog treatment was found to have better heart rate, oxygen saturation, cerebral oxygenation, blood pressure and lower pain perception.

Nancy Meyrich and her Havanese dogs (GG, and formerly Darci and Dylan) have provided invaluable Pet Therapy for 11 years in NYC. I can think of no better way to understand the special healing treatment of Pet Therapy than from someone who is intimately involved. Ms. Meyrich writes,

Something magical happens when I bring a dog into a hospital or nursing home. Faces light up and patients are pleasantly surprised to see a dog. Most people are very curious and want to interact and pet GG.

Therapy dogs provide a distraction from pain and bring patients to the immediate moment. It is a fact that heart rates become slower and blood pressure goes down.

GG has her long show coat and it is wonderfully soft and soothing to the touch. Many people start to talk about their own pets who they have left at home and miss terribly. I say ‘I’ll share’. The gates of conversation are opened. Having a dog to cuddle, sitting beside you, is calming. The interaction fosters an intimacy that might not happen otherwise. It is so heartwarming to have a patient laugh as GG performs some of her tricks. People look forward to GG’s coming and want to know how soon we will return.

When I had my hip replaced at HSS four years ago, my dog Dylan was my guardian angel. For years he had been working twice a week as a therapy dog to others at a large New York health facility. Now I saw first hand the healing power he possessed. While I was bedridden much of the time he lay at the foot of the bed by my feet and never left me. Somehow he knew never to lean against my hip. He moved to the side when I started physical therapy. He stayed several steps ahead of me, always encouraging me to move forward. He never crossed in front of me – sensing, perhaps, that I was unsteady and might trip over him. He resisted if anyone tried to take him away from me for a walk without me. His devotion was immeasurable and his presence day and night was so comforting. If I cried he would come up to my face and lick my tears. My recovery was graced by the sweetness and love of this devoted creature. I am so thankful for his being there for me. He was a calming and healing influence.

1Calcaterra, V., Veggiotti, P., Palestrini, C., De Giorgis, V., Raschetti, R., Tumminelli, M., Pelizzo, G. (2015). Post-Operative Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Pediatric Surgery: A Randomised Study. PLoS ONE,10(6), e0125813. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125813

Dr. Julia Kim, clinical psychologistDr. Julia Kim is a Clinical Psychologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Kim is the first Clinical Psychologist to formally work within the HSS family and her focus is to develop an Integrative Care Program, designed to incorporate psychological services to a multi-disciplinary care team. She works closely with physicians and surgeons to optimize the best possible medical outcome.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.