Washington: Therapy dogs are effective in reducing the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, finds a study.
The UCI School of Medicine research involved children aged 7 to 9 who had been diagnosed with ADHD and who had never taken medicines for their condition. The study randomized participants to compare benefits from evidenced-based, "best practice" psychosocial interventions with the same intervention augmented by the assistance of certified therapy dogs.
Results from Schuck's research indicate children with ADHD who received canine assisted intervention (CAI) experienced a reduction in inattention and an improvement in social skills. And, while both CAI and non-CAI interventions were ultimately found to be effective for reducing overall ADHD symptom severity after 12 weeks, the group assisted by therapy dogs fared significantly better with improved attention and social skills at only eight weeks and demonstrated fewer behavioral problems.
No significant group differences, however, were reported for hyperactivity and impulsivity.
"Our finding that dogs can hasten the treatment response is very meaningful," said lead author Sabrina E. B. Schuck. "In addition, the fact that parents of the children who were in the CAI group reported significantly fewer problem behaviors over time than those treated without therapy dogs is further evidence of the importance of this research."
"The take away from this is that families now have a viable option when seeking alternative or adjunct therapies to medication treatments for ADHD, especially when it comes to impaired attention," said Schuck. "Inattention is perhaps the most salient problem experienced across the life span for individuals with this disorder."
This study is the first known randomised controlled trial of CAI for children with ADHD. It illustrates that the presence of therapy dogs enhances traditional psychosocial intervention and is feasible and safe to implement.
Animal assisted intervention (AAI) has been used for decades, however, only recently has empirical evidence begun to support these practices reporting benefits including reduced stress, improved cognitive function, reduced problem behaviors and improved attention.
The study has been published in the journal Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.