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The truth about therapy dogs in children's hospitals

Petting a dog releases feel-good hormones dog-happy
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A study at Southampton Children's Hospital has shown that therapy dogs have an overwhelmingly positive effect on young patients.

By Ashley Murphy , 16 May 2019

The study involved three handlers and five Golden Retrievers. The dogs assisted with nursing care and kept children company during potentially distressing procedures like blood-taking and radiology tests.

The first real evidence

And although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of therapy dogs, this study is the first piece of real hard evidence. The results were published in the British Journal of Nursing and dispelled many previous concerns about allowing dogs into hospitals, including behavioural and hygiene issues.

What's more, of the 200 staff and patients surveyed over the 12 months, not a single person raised any concerns about the dogs. In fact, everyone said that they thought the dogs should be used in hospitals across the UK.

Lyndsey Uglow is lead therapy dog handler at Southampton Children’s Hospital. She said:

"The results of this survey have confirmed that the initiation of a formal therapy dog service in an acute UK children’s hospital environment has been overwhelmingly positive and supported by patients, parents and staff.”

She continued:

"We understand a therapy dog visit would not be appropriate for every type of patient, however, where it is possible, the results of this study show that patients, staff and visitors enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond when they see one of our dogs on the wards."

The same team of handlers and therapy dogs are now comforting children awaiting surgery. The results of this additional study won't be published until next year, but initial reports suggest that the children are responding positively to the dogs.


How gorgeous is Quinn who visited the children this morning? The kids are always so pleased to see him! Thank you Leo & Friends - Therapy Dogs #dogs #doglovers #childrenshospital

Posted by Southampton Children’s Hospital on Thursday, January 31, 2019

The science of petting a dog

Therapy dogs are becoming a common sight in many different settings, including care homes, schools, and even some workplaces.

And for very good reason.

A study at the University of Missouri found that petting a dog for as little as 15 minutes releases happy hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. It also reduces the levels of cortisol, a hormone which is directly related to elevated stress.


Despite the weather, Quinn is here today in his raincoat to cheer the children up. #therapydogs #sotonchildhosp #Southampton #dogs

Posted by Southampton Children’s Hospital on Sunday, March 3, 2019