Study: Therapy Dogs Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Children

AUGUST 13, 2018
Gina Kokosky, Assistant Editor
A novel study found that therapy dogs may help children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) manage their symptoms. Children who were treated with canine assisted interventions (CAI) were reportedly more attentive, and experienced improved social skills after 8 weeks compared to those who received traditional interventions, according to a study published in the Society of Counseling Psychology’s Human-Animal Interaction Board.

While animal assistance intervention has been around for years, studies supporting the benefit of animal assistance are recent. These studies suggest that animals can help manage stress, improve cognitive function, decrease behavioral problems, and improve attentiveness. The researchers examined whether animal assistance can reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

The study was conducted on children aged 7 to 9 years with ADHD who had not been previously treated with medication. The children were randomized to 2 groups and given either standard psychosocial interventions on their own, or the standard psychosocial interventions supplemented with a certified therapy dog, according to the authors.

The study found that CAI was effective in improving concentration and social skills among children with ADHD. While traditional intervention yielded similar results, it took 12 weeks for patients to notice, compared to the 8 weeks for those receiving CAI. The 2 groups experienced no significant differences in other ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity or impulsivity.

"Our finding that dogs can hasten the treatment response is very meaningful," said Schuck, in the publication. "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 American Academy of Pediatrics suggests both psychopharmacological and psychosocial treatment for the management of ADHD. Previous studies have shown that receiving psychosocial therapy before taking medication may yield better results. Psychosocial therapy is also an alternative for parents who want to avoid medicating a young child, according to the study.

"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."


Reference

University of California, Irvine. Therapy Dogs Effective in Reducing Symptoms of ADHD, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. July 18, 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718170258.htm. Accessed August 10, 2018.
 

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