Unlocking the Healing Power of Pets for Kids: How Pet Therapy is Transforming One Children's Hospital

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The Mental & Physical Health Benefits of Pet Therapy for Kids in the Hospital

At Purina, our core belief is that pets and people are better together. Many articles have been published about the benefits of the human-pet bond, and if you have a pet yourself, you know first-hand that life is better with pets. Animal-Assisted Therapy, or pet therapy, has shown to be beneficial for both physical and mental health, especially for children in a hospital. That’s why several years ago, our Purina pet behavior experts worked with the team at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to design and create the Purina Family Pet Center, one of only a handful of facilities globally that allows children to spend time with their own beloved pets during longer hospital stays. 

“Reuniting our patients with their pets brings so much joy to the families. You can see the bonds that the children have with their pets, and these reunions really have an impact. Studies have shown that pet therapy may help  reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improve overall mood and social interaction. Not only does it help them feel better emotionally, but I believe that it may help them cope with physical pain by providing distraction and comfort,” says Valerie Lamping, volunteer coordinator at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Paws For Hope

Last Year, Purina expanded our support of the hospital’s pet therapy program. The new Purina Paws for Hope program enables the hospital to add full-time facility dogs to their staff, grow their network of volunteer pet therapy dog teams, and expand the use of the Purina Family Pet Center. The collective result is a children’s hospital that offers many opportunities for young patients and their families to experience the healing power of pets. 

The expanded partnership has allowed for the addition of a full-time facility dog to the hospital’s Pediatric Behavior Health Unit (PBHU) and the Child Protection Program (CPP). Opal, a yellow Labrador Retriever, has increased appointment show rates for CPP patients from 60% (the national average of a Child Protection Program) to 80%. This means that patients who know Opal is waiting to spend time with them are more likely to come to their appointments. Opal has her own trading cards to give to patients.

The hospital has also added 26 volunteer pet therapy dog teams during the past year, making more dogs available to provide comfort during care and increasing patient and staff interactions with therapy dogs by nearly 34%. And through a new pilot touch therapy program with Purina’s partner Duo Dogs, Inc., our very own Purina employee volunteers and their dogs will be scheduling visits at the hospital very soon. 

We’ve also worked to create a new library in the Purina Family Pet Center, providing pet-themed books that patients and their families can read with or to their family pet during visits. Partners like Ready Readers work together with Purina and St. Louis Children’s Hospital to provide books to kids of all ages.

Pet Therapy in Action at a Children’s Hospital 

The impact of the therapy dog visits, and the difference these visits have made is remarkable. The dogs have been by the sides of these patients to “ring the bell” in good times to signal cancer milestones, and to bring comfort in very difficult times. They have even been part of graduations and proms at the hospital. 

If you’d like to see the dogs in action and learn about the impact one therapy dog had on Gavin, a heart transplant recipient, click here. Purina’s partnership with St. Louis Children’s Hospital is just one example of how important it is to better understand and embrace the healing power of pets in society. And we can’t wait to share some of the other ways our pet experts are creating life changing programs to bring and keep pets and people together. 

About the Author:

Nina Leigh Krueger, CEO and President at Nestlé Purina North America, Foundation Board Member of St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

As President and CEO of Nestlé Purina PetCare U.S., Nina Leigh Krueger leads the organization’s vision to be the world’s most trusted company in enriching the lives of pets and the people who love them. She began her career at Purina in 1993 as an intern and has since served in many key roles, working to elevate key global brands, bring innovation to market, and lead priority initiatives to strengthen the business. When Nina Leigh is not spending time with her family, she is active in her community, serving on multiple boards and executive committees of various non-profit organizations.

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