Study Shows Visits by Dogs are Beneficial to Heart Patients

Study Shows Visits by Dogs are Beneficial to Heart Patients

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Ed Yeates ReportingMore hospitals are going to the dogs, and in this case, that's a GOOD thing! The American Heart Association today released a study showing a 12 minute visit by a dog to a heart patient measurably improves heart and lung function.

Among all the visitors who pass through University Hospital every day, researchers at UCLA in Los Angeles zeroed in on some rare guests on four legs. Zelda is a six-year old Portuguese Water Dog who's quite accustomed to walking these halls.

Trained therapy dogs have been visiting the University of Utah for the past 15 years. That's why Sandy Martin was really not surprised to hear about this latest study.

Sandy Martin, R.N., U of U Hospital Community Outreach Program: "It doesn't surprise me at all in terms of an ICU, where I've worked as a nurse. On the monitors you see these changes, though they weren't being measured at that time for that reason."

UCLA researchers studied 76 hospitalized heart failure patients who could touch and pet the animals on the bed while interacting with the volunteer dog team. At UCLA's medical center, the team measured what is called the patient's physical hemodynamics over a 12 to 20 minute interval. They also administered an anxiety test.

Anxiety scores dropped 24 percent. Levels of the stress hormone epinephrine dropped 17 percent. The left atrial pressure in the heart dropped 10 percent. Systolic pulmonary artery pressure in the lungs dropped five percent.

Connie Wheeler, Heart Patient: "Very relaxing. It just makes you feel more at ease."

In simple language, the study showed short-term exposure to dogs was both physically and psychologically beneficial, more so in some cases that a visit by a human only.

Sandy Martin: "Dogs are very non judgmental. They don't care that maybe you don't look your best or that something looks funny about you right now. They just want to be there with you."

Based on the data, the UCLA research team says hospitals should strongly consider animal assisted therapy for heart patients.

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