Pet therapy animals are pets trained to provide affection and comfort to people in a variety of settings. Numerous studies have investigated the benefits of therapy dogs and cats on people's mental and physical health. Therapy pets help calm patients and may reduce anxiety in children and adults with dental phobias. By learning how therapy pets can help, their pros and cons, and how to introduce them into a dental setting, you can discover if this would be an asset to your practice.
How Do Therapy Pets Help People?
Frontiers in Psychology, interacting with an animal lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, promotes "friendly social attention, smiles, and conversation," and lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Dogs are especially lovable companion animals, though cats have been studied as well.
If patients get to play with a dog in the waiting room and then pet one while sitting in the chair, their dental procedures may go more smoothly and everyone in the room will feel more at ease. Additionally, if patients are excited to visit the office because of its four-legged guest, they may be more likely to schedule the follow-up appointments they need to get the best oral care.
Pros of Animals in the Office
Having a therapy pet in the office may provide a welcome distraction for the patient to help reduce fear and anxiety. It is important to have a handler in charge of the dog 100 percent of the time in order to control the dog and any situation that may arise. It is recommended that the handler is a certified pet assistant. There are training courses and programs to get the pet ready for testing to become certified as a therapy dog.
A dental office may choose a day, a week or once a month to invite the therapy dog to the office. That way patients know ahead of time that there will be a dog in the office during their appointment. It is possible that a patient could be allergic to dogs or afraid of them, so it is important to inform all patients. Inviting a hypoallergenic dog may minimize dander and fur allergies but may not help with people allergic to its saliva. Therapy dogs may help increase production within the office by decreasing cancellations and no-shows.
Cons to Plan For
There will be patients and staff members concerned with keeping things clean and sterile with a dog in the office. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there is no evidence to suggest that animals pose a more significant risk of transmitting infection than people; therefore, dogs do not have to be excluded from such areas. It is important though to consider the type of procedure that is being completed. Any type of surgery (implant placement, extraction or other invasive procedures) may not be the best time to have a therapy pet with the patient, but it may be okay to have the pet in the room for an exam, a simple filling or a crown placement.
Introducing Therapy Pets in the Dental Setting
Before making the decision to invite a therapy pet to your dental office it is important to consider patient population, need and schedule flow. If the patient base is largely children or those who have anxiety, it may be a good idea to have a therapy pet more frequently in the office. It is important to make notes in the schedule about which patients would benefit from the therapy dog being a part of the patient's office visit. Include information about the new therapy pet in your office newsletter to inform all patients about the addition to the office. Scheduling extra time for patients needing a therapy pet may improve the flow of the office schedule.
- Consider inviting a therapy pet to the office to potentially improve the success of care to those with dental phobias.
- Schedule one day a week or month for the therapy pet's visit, and notify all patients.
- Evaluate your patient base to see if patients would benefit from a therapy pet.
Why It's Valuable
Incorporating pet therapy in the office may help your practice grow and become the talk of the town as being a fun and relaxing office for dental work. Offering a benefit like this may be an easy way to encourage patients to say yes to treatment while dispelling their anxiety. For patients, the knowledge that they are not alone and have a therapy dog by their side will help them keep their appointments and may help them break free from their dental phobia.