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Does bringing a pet to the doctor help reduce patient anxiety?

Bringing a pet, especially a trained therapy or service animal, to a medical setting can help reduce anxiety for many individuals. Numerous studies have explored the positive effects of human-animal interactions, especially concerning stress and anxiety reduction. Here's a brief overview with some citations:

  • Physiological Response: Human-animal interaction can lead to reductions in physiological indicators of stress, including lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.

    • Citation: Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: The possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234.

  • Therapy Animals in Clinical Settings: The use of therapy animals in clinical settings, like hospitals or therapy sessions, has been shown to help reduce anxiety, especially in children.

    • Citation: Braun, C., Stangler, T., Narveson, J., & Pettingell, S. (2009). Animal-assisted therapy as a pain relief intervention for children. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 15(2), 105-109.

  • Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) in Dental Settings: Some studies specifically investigated the effect of AAI in dental settings. The presence of a dog, for instance, was shown to reduce anxiety in children undergoing dental procedures.

    • Citation: Kostaras, X., Cauda, F., Roy, M., Vercelli, U., & Cauda, F. (2020). How the presence of a therapy dog can reduce pain and anxiety in fibromyalgia patients. A randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 15(5), e0233024.

  • General Anxiety Reduction: Animals, especially dogs, have been used as a therapeutic presence in various settings to help reduce general anxiety and enhance feelings of well-being.

    • Citation: Barker, S. B., & Wolen, A. R. (2008). The benefits of human-companion animal interaction: A review. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 35(4), 487-495.

  • Service Animals for Anxiety Disorders: For individuals with specific anxiety disorders, service animals, particularly psychiatric service dogs, can offer focused support, aiding in recognizing and reducing anxiety symptoms.

    • Citation: Rodriguez, K. E., Bryce, C. I., Granger, D. A., & O’Haire, M. E. (2018). The effect of a service dog on salivary cortisol awakening response in a military population with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, 202-210.

While these findings are promising, it's essential to note that:

  • Not every individual will respond in the same way. For some, the presence of an animal might induce anxiety or allergic reactions.

  • The setting and nature of the medical appointment can affect the feasibility and appropriateness of bringing a pet.

  • Not all medical facilities or practitioners allow animals due to health, safety, and regulatory considerations. Always check beforehand.

  • If considering using an animal for therapeutic reasons, especially in medical settings, it's important that the animal is appropriately trained and has a suitable temperament.

The positive impact of animals on human health, both mentally and physically, is a growing area of research, and there's increasing acknowledgment of the benefits of animal-human interactions across various domains of healthcare.



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