Some of the same benefits that stem from exercise—reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and increased endorphins—are also true of pet therapy. Also known as animal-assisted therapy, pet therapy involves more than using service dogs to help people who are hearing or sight impaired. Pet therapy is a connection, ideally one that forms between animals and young patients who may be dealing with serious medical conditions.
The bond formed between an animal and a patient can assist children in recovering from medical conditions, coping with pain and dealing with the emotional toll of anxiety, sadness, loneliness and fear that often accompany lengthy stays in a hospital. At its most basic level, pet therapy provides a dose of unconditional love that helps improve a child’s quality of life.
Any dog owner knows the benefits of being greeted by a loving pet after a hard day’s work. Now there is scientific research to confirm the positive effects that pet therapy has on physical and mental health. In addition to lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety, pet therapy can stimulate the release of endorphins like oxytocin. This hormone helps us feel happy, trusting and optimistic. These important feelings can have a positive impact on attitudes towards treatment and healing.
Studies show that just playing with or petting a dog can cause oxytocin levels to rise. Increased levels of oxytocin can give children greater motivation to participate in treatment. Interactions with a friendly, loving and gentle pet can also:
Pet therapy can also reduce stress on families and caregivers.
Pet therapy programs are safe for your child. Participating dogs are vaccinated, trained and evaluated for appropriate behavior. Dogs are registered with national therapy dog programs such as Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International. Pet therapy volunteers have also been trained and screened through the Riley at IU Health Volunteer Services Department.
What is the process for participating in pet therapy?
Given the high priority that health and safety have at Riley at IU Health, specific units and patients must be approved for visits based on our Infection Control Policy. Once a patient and family are approved, pet therapy visits can be coordinated through Child Life.
People interested in volunteering for the program may use our online application to apply. Here are some of the requirements included in our pet therapy policy to ensure the safety of our patients, families and staff:
Failure to pass or complete any requirement in the application and orientation process disqualifies a candidate and dog for volunteer service.
Have a question about volunteering? Submit your inquiry and we will respond as soon as possible.
Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health
705 Riley Hospital Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health North Hospital
1700 N. Meridian Street
Carmel, IN 46032
Physicians, healthcare providers and family members can contact the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies staff by email.
The Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies Department at Riley at IU Health offers occasional internship opportunities and career education for students who are interested in child life, music therapy or art therapy. If you are interested in learning more about related education, visit us for updates about internships and scheduled educational events, or send us an email.