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In 2001, the Pet Care Trust Foundation funded a two-year medical study to quantify the physical & psychological effects of introducing animals to patients in the cardiac intensive care facility at the UCLA Medical Center. The Pet Care Trust Board of Trustees understood the significance of quantified medical research for the determination of the value of animals in the health and welfare of human lives. The Trust funded a very small study ($50,000 over two years) compared to most national cardiac research programs, and they made the right choice and they invested well.
At the November, 2005, American Heart Association Conference in Dallas, Kathie Cole, a nurse from UCLA Medical Center and the study leader, announced the findings from the research data collection and medical assessment. The UCLA study showed that trained Assistance Therapy dogs, visiting severely ill cardiac patients in intensive care, lowered their stress and anxiety and their heart and lung pressure significantly.
Kathie Cole, RN and her medical colleagues worked with 76 heart failure patients in hospital, conducting several physical and psychological tests. The patients were randomly divided into three groups. Individual patients were either visited by a human volunteer with a trained dog, by a human volunteer, or no visitation. Blood testing and anxiety assessments were performed on each patient in their group, after a visit or no visit period. The significance of this study is that hard data was collected and analyzed on each patient, as opposed to observations only done in previous animals assisted therapy studies. The analysis makes this cardiac study unique, and more significant with regard to the validity animals visiting medical patients.
A psychological scale for anxiety was consistently used for all patients in the study. The group with no visitors remained the same anxiety level, while patient anxiety after a human visitor dropped by 10%, and the anxiety for those visited by the human with the trained dog, dropped by 24%. This is significant.
The blood chemistry testing included the assessment of epinephrine levels, a hormone secretion that increases with stress in humans.
Epinephrine levels in the group with no visitors increased about 7%, the hormone level in the patient group with a human visitor dropped by 2%, but the epinephrine tests for those visited by the human with the trained dog, dropped about 17%. This again, is significant.
The heart pressure and the lung pressure assessment showed similar responses in each of the three groups of patients. The heart pressure increased by 5% with no visitors, increased by 3% after the human visitor, but heart pressure dropped by 10% after the visit of the dog and human. Similarly, the lung pressure increased with no visit and human visit, but declined by 5% with the dog/human visit.
The conclusion from this study in that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has the potential to be an effective adjunctive treatment modality that improves cardiopulmonary pressures, neuroendocrine levels and anxiety in patients hospitalized with heart failure.
Several well trained assistance therapy dogs were used in this study, including well trained volunteer dog owners. These dogs and their owners were all assessed for temperament and suitability as an assistance team, prior to their training. They are volunteers who support humankind in visits to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that enrich the lives of others. Kathie Cole, RN, hopes that the study, funded by the Pet Care Trust Foundation, helps show that pet therapy is a credible addition to patient care, not just a nicety.
This is a significant and impressive medical study with patients suffering from cardiac failure in an intensive care unit at a prestigious university medical school. Because the hard data was scientifically collected and assessed, the study provides documentation for the medical community and medical facilities to recognize and accept animal assisted therapy as being valid. The scientific “proof” that dogs, and many other well cared for animals, interacting with children, adults and elders in hospitals, in long term care, in schoolrooms and in homes, is a significant benefit for the health of humans, as well as unconditional love within and for our society.