They soothe stressed out students during exam period, cheer up the elderly in seniors’ homes and they act as emotional therapy to military veterans.
Puppies are man’s best friend, but can they also cure you of your ailments? A groundbreaking study led by the American Humane Association and five U.S. hospitals hopes to find out.
Dogs may be able to put a smile on anyone’s face but the scientists say there’s no scientific proof that the sweet animals can give you a special dose of feel-good medicine when you need it most.
The study, dubbed as the first official clinical trial on the effects of animal therapy, will pair young cancer patients with dogs.
“One promising, and underutilized weapon in the war on childhood cancer has been acknowledged anecdotally, but never before been rigorously evaluated in the context of pediatric oncology – the use of animal-assisted therapy,” the American Humane Society said in a statement.
“Obviously, we know that the children like to see the dogs,” Amy McCullough, the organization’s national director, told TIME. “But the folks in risk management want some clinical data.”
About 100 kids battling cancer between the ages of three and 12 years old will be followed across five different hospitals. Half of the group will receive visits from therapy dogs, while the other half will receive the standard treatment without a furry friend at their side.
Then, researchers will track blood pressure, heart rate and psychological health in the kids and their families. The dogs will even be considered – the study plans to measure the stress hormone, cortisol, in the animals to see how they fare in handling the situation.
The AHA says that animal therapy is affordable, accessible and could be a promising therapy for patients from all walks of life. Right now, dogs help with relaxation, exercise, improving social skills and staving off depression and loneliness.
If the study returns with clear benefits, it could lead to the use of 50,000 registered therapy dogs in children’s hospitals across the U.S., NBC News reported.
Read more about the study here.