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Could ostomates benefit from therapy dogs?

August 26th marks National Dog Day, a time to celebrate our four legged friends, and rightly so. Dogs are amazing creatures that can carry out a number of tasks, not least of all providing simple companionship and love. This made us wonder would it be possible for dogs to help ostomates? And if so, how?

First, we need to understand the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog and an emotional support dog:

Service dogs

At present, we couldn’t find any information suggesting there are specialised service dogs to help those with a stoma. Service dogs are highly trained to help their owners with certain conditions, there are service dogs for the visually impaired, mobility impaired, seizure alert dogs and for people with diabetes. Due to the nature of a stoma, it’s unlikely that a service dog would be able to provide assistance. Not all breeds are recommended for life as a service dog, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador/Golden Retriever Crosses and German Shepherds are the most likely to graduate training.

Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs are also trained to perform special tasks, however, the most common are to provide affection and comfort. They’re used commonly in retirement and nursing homes, as well as schools and even hospices. There’s plenty of research showing the positive impact a therapy dog can have on a person during recovery or living with a condition. Therapy dogs are most known to provide support to many people. Therapy dogs are not necessarily classed as service dogs, although a dog can be trained as both. Any breed of dog can be classed as therapy dog following a certification process.

Emotional support dogs

Much like therapy dogs, emotional support dogs are there to provide comfort to their owner. However, the subtle difference is that it’s usually on a one-to-one basis, where therapy dogs must be trained to deal with large groups of people (such as in a retirement home). Emotional support dogs often have special considerations and are allowed to live with owners in premises where it might not usually be allowed. They are also often allowed to fly with owners. An emotional support dog is the most likely candidate to help a person with a stoma. Again, much like a therapy dog, any breed can be classed as an emotional support dog and can be registered as such.

What are the benefits of a therapy or emotional support dog?

For many, living with a stoma can have a psychological impact. Between 16-26% of stoma patients will experience some negative psychological impact as a result of the condition. A therapy dog (or other therapy pet) can help to lift spirits and provide some much need companionship. For animal lovers they’re great at lowering feelings of isolation and providing general comfort in low moments. They’re also known to reduce anxiety in many owners as well as creating motivation for a speedier recovery in those who are recently post op.

They can also have a big effect on physical health, helping to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. All dog lovers will know that a dog can have an incredible calming effect, helping to release endorphins and minimise stress. Simply stroking a therapy dog can produce an automatic relaxation response that can even reduce the amount of medication needed in many cases.

Even the simple act of walking a dog daily can help an ostomate to recover post surgery and stay healthy. Walking is a great form of cardio that’s gentle on the body and can be slowly increased to build stamina. Our stoma nurses regularly recommend walking as a way to get started back on the road to full health.

Find more information on emotional support animals and how to register them at


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