Good News About Dogs That’s Not Just For Pet Parents!

New research suggests affection from dogs may benefit cognitive skills and wellness.

Little girl hugging her golden retriever dog and smiling.

(Tatyana Vyc /

Dogs are grabbing the good news headlines! A new study from a team at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada,  published in the journal PLOS One, shows that dogs may not just be man’s best friend, but a doctor’s best friend too because they can reduce pain in emergency room patients. Meanwhile, other new research from Tiffany Braley, MD, MS, of the University of Michigan Medical Center, shows that long-term pet ownership can slow cognitive decline in older adult pet parents. 

Canine affection offers the best care
The first study from the University of Saskatchewan suggests, as CNN reports, that for patients experiencing pain in the emergency room, ten minutes with a therapy dog may help reduce pain. It can also add a healthy dose of positivity for patients and their healthcare providers in what is usually a stressful setting.

Discussing how the advantages of time spent with four-legged friends goes beyond pain relief to take in wellness more broadly, the study concludes that: “Clinically significant changes in pain as well as significant changes in anxiety, depression and well-being were observed in the therapy dog intervention compared to control.” Its authors conclude that the potential value of emergency department therapy dogs to positively impact both pain perception and mentalstate should be recognized.

A health study with a holistic approach
Over 200 patients in casualty were asked to rank their level of pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest level of discomfort experienced. In parallel to the regular care they receive as emergency room patients, the participants in one group were given 10 minutes of time with a therapy dog, while a control group had no intervention for their pain. When all patients were then asked to rate their pain levels again, those who spent time with the therapy dogs reported less pain.

Underlying the study, is the understanding that pain itself has a subjective element. It grasps that physical symptoms can so often be accompanied by a patient’s response to stress triggers like bright lights and prolonged wait times that are common experiences in casualty departments. This is why nurse Mike MacFadden tells CNN that he sees real potential in a stress-relieving solution incorporating therapy dogs as part of a holistic approach to pain treatment in emergency rooms, with positive impacts that extend to care providers too. 

Pet ownership can slow cognitive decline in older adults
According to the author of another recent study on the positive impact of dogs, this time on their owners that is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74 Annual Meeting in Seattle, April 2-10 2022, longer-term pet ownership could delay cognitive decline in older adults.

“Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress,” said study author Tiffany Braley, MD, MS, of the University of Michigan Medical Center. “Our results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.” 

The study examined cognitive data taken from the Health and Retirement Study of Medicare beneficiaries. It used a sample of almost 1,400 adults with an average age of 65. All had normal cognitive skills at the start of the study. 

Over a period of six years, the researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate among pet owners, particularly among long-term pet parents. While Braley believes that more research is needed, reports Salon,  the team have already come to some conclusions to explain their research findings.
These include that as stress can negatively affect cognitive functioning, the potential stress-busting effects of pet ownership can be a plausible reason for the benefits of pet ownership on mental health. Another is that companion animals encourage owners to engage in more physical activity, which also boosts their overall cognitive health.

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