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Dogs making a difference in health care

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Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013 7:31 pm | Updated: 4:37 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

From helping autistic children to wounded warriors, they have been shown to be beneficial without any real side effects. They aren't miracle pills, they're pups! Here’s a look at how dogs are making a difference in health care.

It may be hard to believe, but Kelsie the dog is kind of like a drug.

Sergeant Matthew Krumweide lost both legs and severely injured his arm in Afghanistan. "I stepped on an IED." Rehab's been hard, but Kelsie makes it easier.

Matthew says one day during physical therapy, he was struggling while working on his arm's range of motion. He tells us when Kelsie came in, the pain went away. "We were able to get there. Get to 90 degrees."

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, medical director at Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, believes therapy dogs are: "just probably the most holistic approach to treatment that I think is out there."

A study found therapy dog visits to chronic pain patients led to significant reduction in pain and emotional distress. Research shows therapy dogs also lowered autistic children's stress hormones or cortisol levels by 48%, which points to potential behavioral benefits.

Various reports say pet therapy can help lower anxiety, decrease blood pressure, shorten hospital stays, and improve patient outcomes.

Matthew's improving every day. He's working on walking and eventually wants to snow-ski. “So that's gonna be hard. I gotta work at it." And Kelsie will be close by to help him through it all.

A dog's gaze can also have an interesting effect on us. A Japanese study found just by looking at their dog, an owner's oxytocin levels increased. It's the so called "cuddle hormone" produced by the pituitary gland associated with human bonding.

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