Tennessee vet college to study whether therapy dogs can lower dose of sedation in children undergoing surgery

The study is designed to determine if interaction with a therapy dog 20 minutes prior to surgery has a significant effect on reducing a child’s anxiety levels and, in turn, lowering the dose of medication necessary for sedation

The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine recently received a $79,000 grant from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) to study whether therapy dogs can lower the dose of sedation in children undergoing surgery.

“The goal of this study is to determine if interaction with a therapy dog 20 minutes prior to surgery has a significant effect on reducing a child’s anxiety levels and, in turn, lowering the dose of medication necessary for sedation,” said the study’s principal investigator, Zenithson Y. Ng, DVM, at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “The results of this study may be further used to justify and advocate for animal-assisted intervention (AAI) in various medical situations and open doors for additional research on measurable medical outcomes associated with AAI.”

The three-year, cross-over-designed study on behalf of the veterinary college’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and Biomedical and Diagnostics Sciences will examine 72 children between the ages of 2 and 17 and randomly determine whether the child receives a therapy dog or an iPad tablet 20 minutes before sedation.

Dr. Ng and co-investigators Julia Albright, DVM, and Marcy Souza, DVM, will then evaluate heart rate, blood pressure and medicine levels for sedation and compare the amounts of each group. It is expected, according to HABRI, that children provided with a therapy dog prior to surgery will have significantly lower preoperative anxiety and will require a decreased amount of medication for sedation compared to children who do not interact with a therapy dog.

“Scientific research has shown that therapy dogs in hospital settings can have a calming effect, ease stress and provide reassurance to patients young and old, and to their families as well,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “HABRI’s grant to the University of Tennessee will help advance the science on the benefits of companion animals in hospital settings. The more we can demonstrate the positive role pets can play in human health, the more people can benefit from the healing power of the human-animal bond.”

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