December 22, 2017

UMass, Tufts in therapy dog study

Courtesy/UMass Memorial
UMass Memorial therapy dogs Jaedyn and Liberty.

Dogs, believe it or not, can cheer you right up with just a few licks of the face even in the worst of times.

That's according to a study from American Humane, which included UMass Memorial Medical Center pediatric physicians and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts in Worcester and Graton.

The study, "Canines and Childhood Cancer Study," found regular visits from a therapy dog can provide significant psychological benefits to families of children being treated for cancer.

UMass has had a therapy dog program for at least a decade, according to a UMass Memorial spokesman Tony Berry. Several pups, including rottweilers Jaedyn and Liberty, are dispatched to cheer up young patients and their families.

American Humane says the data shows regular contact with dogs can lead to improved communication within families and between parents and medical staff, which helps reduce stress and can lead to better medical care.

UMass and Tufts were one of several other national groups participating in a full clinical trial between 2014 and 2016, part of a study of 106 pediatric patients who were recently diagnosed with cancer. A treatment group of 60 patients aged 3 to 17 got to play with a therapy pooch about once a week for four months while in the midst of treatment.

Those patients, the study found, had stable levels of disease-related anxiety. Parents in that same group said their children even improved in school.

The 46 other patients received standard treatment, and those patients became significantly more worried over the course of the study, American Humane said.

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