CHI Health photo

A chain of hospitals in Iowa and Nebraska is now offering what it calls “wag therapy” at several of its facilities.

Dogs are being used in patients’ rooms and in hospital lobbies to help patients and visitors feel better.

Kris Wiley, a mental health practitioner at CHI Health in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says just the act of petting a pooch can have near-miraculous effects.

“Research has shown that it can reduce anxiety, it reduces people’s blood pressure,” Wiley says. “Some research has even shown that petting a dog will cause our body to start to release oxytocin, which is a feel-good hormone.”

While the saying is that a dog is a man’s best friend, Wiley says it’s sounding more like dogs are great for both our mental and physical health.

“They’re doing studies now and finding that people who own dogs tend to be more active,” Wiley says. “It could be because they feel guilty that their dog has been home all day and hasn’t had any outside activity, but whatever reason we’re taking that dog for a walk is good for us as well.”

Wiley says more hospitals are turning to dog therapy to help with a variety of illness and just to bring a smile to a patient’s face.

She says, “Because I’m in the mental health practice, I certainly have patients who will immediately tell me their dog has been a benefit in their recovery from depression and anxiety, to give them a sense of calm.” She says there are countless benefits to owning or having regular interaction with dogs.

“Dogs actually have the ability, once they get to know a person, read facial expressions to kind of anticipate what their human companion is going to do,” she says. “They have your non-verbal cues figured out.”

Several four-legged volunteers are now offering regular wag therapy sessions at five CHI Health hospitals.

(Thanks to Karla James)