PAT dog provides paediatric patients with ‘Poppy power’

Pets as Therapy is a volunteer organisation that NHS trusts often benefit from. Cambridge University Hospitals have completed a pilot of combining paediatric physio rehab sessions with a PAT dog in the hope of improving motivation, functional outcomes and enjoyment of therapy

Jonathan Littlewood is a paediatric physiotherapist
Jonathan Littlewood is a paediatric physiotherapist

Following inspiration from a similar project by the adult stroke team our sessions have been a huge success and are now part of our weekly routine. Poppy’s skills alongside owner Lisa’s wonderful guidance in motivating children has been coined ‘Poppy power’. Each week, the physiotherapy team selects patients on our caseload that would benefit from a session. A wide variety of patient ages and presentations have benefitted from Poppy power; including those with acquired brain injuries, neuro-oncology diagnoses, critical care acquired polyneuropathy, orthopaedic trauma, neurodevelopmental impairment, and chronic respiratory conditions. 

Poppy is an endearing curly haired Labradoodle and is such a happy girl, bringing with her an infectious positive energy.

With her owners’ intuitive guidance, Poppy adapts to each child and has been able to push children to work harder and achieve their goals quicker in therapy. 

One such success story was with a 13-year-old girl with critical care acquired polyneuropathy following a prolonged period on paediatric intensive care. 

This child was petrified of standing and struggling to progress. In came Poppy; starting off in sitting, reaching to groom, give treats and general play, we could quickly progress to standing. This gave way to more treats for Poppy with the patient now standing and then taking hold of Poppy’s lead with Lisa.  A few sessions later and Poppy was being taken for a walk along the parallel bars with the patient proudly holding her lead. 

Poppy has proved invaluable at helping boost children’s engagement in therapy sessions and we believe that this is a novel way to increase functional rehab in our paediatric inpatient population. We have been inundated with positive feedback from parents and patients alike, with one parent commenting that it allowed their daughter to ‘forget that she is confined to the sterile walls of a hospital and enabled her to do what she views as “normal” things’. We are first to raise our paws to celebrate that physio rehab combined with Poppy the PAT dog has been a huge success. 

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