There’s No Scientific Proof That Pets Make Sick People Feel Better, Researchers Find

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

University of Adelaide researchers are casting doubt about the long-held belief that animals cheer up hospital patients, reports News Unlimited.

Theories about animals improving the health and well being of hospital patients have been the foundation for a whole industry built around “therapy” dogs.

But, a worldwide review was made of all studies into the effects of animals on sick children, to see if there was scientific proof they actually can help improve health or create improved feelings of well being.

They found no-one really knows — and that animal visitors actually might cause problems.

The team from the University’s School of Psychology and School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences found that despite theories emerging as early as the 1960's on the benefits, there is a major gap in scientific knowledge.

Their findings, published in the international journal Anthrozoös, said most of the belief animals help sick people is based on assumptions, not science.

“If you speak with most people they’ll say it’s a good thing for animals such as dogs and cats to be taken into hospitals, so that patients can derive some form of therapeutic effect from their association with the animals,” she said.

“Since the 1980s, when the term ‘human-animal bond’ was coined, it started to become taken for granted that animals would bring about an improved sense of wellbeing for people in healthcare or palliative care.

“However, the scientific world has done such a poor job of researching this field that no one can truly say what the benefits are, how they work, or whether such a situation causes problems or distress — or the exact opposite — for the animals themselves.”

Professor Anna Chur-Hansen, Head of the School of Psychology, said no one has yet fully assessed the range of issues associated with having animals in healthcare settings.

“For example, is it better to have your own pet come and visit, or to have someone else’s pet visit you in hospital?” she said, “What risks are associated with having animals on site among children, and what problems does it cause for disease control?

“Our hope is that by better understanding what’s really happening, we’ll be able to develop guidelines that will lead to best practice — guidelines that could be used by animal support groups and healthcare professionals alike.”

Source: News Limited