Puppy power: Is a therapy dog a good choice for your child?

With those wagging tails, floppy ears, and friendly licks, it’s hard to deny how fun it is to be around a dog. But puppies have proven to be more than just entertaining. More and more, researchers are discovering the amazing ways that puppies can help sick patients feel better and lighten the mood even in sterile hospital settings.

As reported by Today, child patients who had regular visits from a therapy dog while undergoing cancer treatment worried less about their health and felt more comfortable about their school performance. But the puppy magic doesn’t just stop there. The report explains how visits from therapy dogs had an impact on the entire family of sick children: “Parents of the kids who visited the furry therapists, however, showed ‘significantly decreased’ stress levels, especially when talking with doctors, thinking about their child’s treatment and considering their overall emotional state.”

That’s pretty awesome stuff!

Of course, puppies aren’t a cure-all. If they were, we would have doctors prescribing poodles and beagles left and right. Dogs can’t help with everything, and they might not make a significant difference in how anxious or stressed your child feels. Still, the support pros seem to outweigh the cons. If you are thinking that a therapy dog might be right for your child and you would like speak with your doctor about having one requested to visit your New York hospital, keep the following in mind.

Safety

It’s important to note that the study took place in a setting where the animals visiting children also felt comfortable. In your hospital, this might mean that owners and handlers should be around at all times and dogs should be capable of being around children without getting too rambunctious or trying to bite and scratch. Some dogs simply don’t play well with kids. Be mindful of the dog’s behavior before introducing them to an environment with cancer patients.

Allergies

It probably goes without saying that if your child is allergic to dogs, introducing one to their hospital room is probably not a great idea. Likewise, you should be mindful of those around you, including nurses and doctors who might have symptoms when exposed to animals. While this specific study focuses on the power of dogs, you might consider other animal options, like rabbits, kittens, or even a goldfish. The key is to help your child feel more relaxed by having a loving and supportive friend around.

Sharing

Sadly, dogs who are just visiting hospitals are expected to go home with their owners at the end of the day. It might be hard for your little one to end an exciting playdate with a pup, so be sure to let them know in advance that the animal is just stopping by to say hello. It’s also important that siblings and parents get in on all that petting and playing. Having your child see individuals that they love feeling relaxed can also make them let down their guard.

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