Children undergoing hospital treatment are to be supported by therapy dogs as part of a study to see if the animals can help their recovery.
Five dogs are visiting Southampton's Children's Hospital and general hospital as part of research into animal assisted intervention (AAI).
The study, involving dogs Leo, Jessie, Totty, Hatty and Archie, will help future use of AAI by the NHS.
It is hoped the project will also inform veterinary medicine.
The study will explore the effect of the emotional bond and what role it plays in health and wellbeing for humans and animals.
Dog handler Lyndsey Uglow, who visits patients with her golden retriever, Leo, said: "To really find out the true value of therapy visits and to firmly establish it as beneficial in healthcare, we have to strengthen the evidence behind it.
"Our starting point is the impact of dogs with children but the same principles could, over time, be mirrored into other departments and into veterinary healthcare - for example, if animals recover better in a veterinary hospital or with their human family and if family visits aid animal recovery."
The project is led by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and supported by The Humanimal Trust - an organisation set up by Dr Noel Fitzpatrick of Channel 4's The Supervet - and the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT).