Health Beat: Prescription pups: The benefits of therapy dogs

Health Beat: Prescription pups: The benefits of therapy dogs

From autistic children to people with chronic pain, they've been shown to be beneficial without any real side effects.

We're not talking miracle pills here. We're talking dogs.

You saw them in Connecticut after the school massacre, and you saw them recently in Boston after the bombings.  In those cases, and many others, a little pooch pal can brighten up your day.

"I didn't really believe it until, you know, I got here," said Sgt. Matthew Krumweide, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, about how great the companionship of a dog can be. A yellow lab named Kelsie is his service dog. "She's awesome, settles things down."

Krumweide said physical rehab has been hard, but Kelsie makes it easier. He explained that, one day during physical therapy, he was struggling while working on his range of motion. Then, doctors sent Kelsie in and the pain went away.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, medical director of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, believes therapy dogs are "just probably the most holistic approach to treatment that I think is out there."

A study found therapy dog visits to chronic pain patients led to significant reduction in pain and emotional distress.

Research shows therapy dogs also lowered autistic children's stress hormones or cortisol levels by 48 percent, which points to potential behavioral benefits.

Pet therapy can help lower anxiety, decrease blood pressure, shorten hospital stays, and improve patient outcomes, according to various reports.

Krumweide is improving every day. He's working on walking and eventually wants to snow-ski. Kelsie will be close by to help him through it all. 

Another furry fact: a dog's gaze can also have an interesting effect on us. A Japanese study found just by looking at their dog, an owner's oxytocin levels increased. It's the so-called "cuddle hormone" produced by the pituitary gland associated with human bonding.

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