- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

DALLAS (AP) — It turns out dogs are more than man’s best friend. They’re pretty good at making the sick feel better, too, in ways that can be measured.

A small study showed that visits from therapeutic dogs lowered anxiety, stress, and heart and lung pressure among heart failure patients.

“I’m not surprised at all that something that makes people feel good also makes them feel less anxious, has measurable physiological effects,” said Dr. Marc Gillinov, a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the study.

“You can see it on their face, first you see a smile and then you see the worries of the world roll off their shoulders,” said Kathie Cole, a nurse at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center who led the study. It was presented yesterday at an American Heart Association meeting.

Take Charles Denson, for example. His face brightened as a speckled Australian shepherd named Bart cuddled next to him as he rested in his bed in a Dallas cardiac care unit.

“You’ve got a pretty coat,” the 51-year-old said while petting Bart’s soft fur.

Miss Cole and her colleagues studied 76 heart failure patients — average age 57 — who had a visit either from a volunteer or a volunteer plus a dog, or no visit.

The scientists measured patients’ physiological responses before, during and after the visits.

Anxiety as measured by a standard rating scale dropped 24 percent among those visited by a dog and volunteer and by 10 percent for those visited by just a volunteer. Scores for the group with no visit remained the same.

Heart pressure dropped 10 percent after the visit by the volunteer and dog. It increased 3 percent for those visited by a volunteer and 5 percent for those who got no visit.

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