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Dogs ease anxiety, improve health status of hospitalized heart failure patients

When it comes to health care, "going to the dogs" is a good thing, according to new research reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.

Researchers discovered that a 12-minute visit with man's best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures, diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients. Benefits exceeded those that resulted from a visit with a human volunteer or from being left alone.

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) has been shown to reduce blood pressure in healthy and hypertensive patients. It reduces anxiety in hospitalized patients, too.

Still, the therapeutic approach of using dogs to soothe people's minds and improve health has been considered more a "nicety" than credible science, said Kathie M. Cole, R.N., M.N., C.C.R.N., lead author of the study and a clinical nurse III at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

To determine the potential benefits of animal-assisted therapy on health, the researchers studied 76 hospitalized heart failure patients and their reactions to a visit from either a human volunteer and dog team, a human volunteer only or no visit (the at-rest group). Patients were randomly assigned to one of these three approaches.

"We looked at the dogs' effects on variables that characterize heart failure, including changes in cardiac function, neuroendocrine (stress hormone) activation and psychological changes in mood," Cole said.

The intervention lasted 12 minutes. In the volunteer-dog team group, specially trained dogs (of 12 different breeds) would lie on patients' beds, so patients could touch them while interacting with the volunteer-dog team.

Researchers monitored patients' hemodynamics -- the collective system of measurement for blood volume, heart function and resistance of the blood vessels. They measured hemodynamic pressures just before the 12-minute intervention, eight minutes into the inter
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Contact: Carole Bullock or Karen Astle
carole.bullock@heart.org
214-706-1396
American Heart Association
15-Nov-2005


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