Thursday, May 8, 2014

Study Examines Effect of Therapy Dogs on Childhood Cancer Patients & Families

Via PRNewswire - Today, American Humane Association held a congressional briefing to discuss a groundbreaking study that is the first scientific effort to document the beneficial effects of animal-assisted therapy in helping children with cancer and their families.

Each year in the U.S., nearly 13,000 children are newly diagnosed with cancer and more than 40,000 are in treatment at any given time.

Billions of dollars are rightly being spent to pursue new treatment advancements for children with cancer, and while survivorship has fortunately increased over the past two decades, quality of life for these patients and their families remains a concern.

One promising, and underutilized weapon in the war on childhood cancer has been acknowledged anecdotally, but never before been rigorously evaluated in the context of pediatric oncology – the use of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as a complementary treatment option for children and families in their time of greatest need.

AAT is an accessible and affordable adjunctive treatment option that holds promise for populations from all ages and walks of life, including children who often have a natural affinity for animals. The documented benefits of AAT include: relaxation, physical exercise, unconditional support, improved social skills, enhanced self-confidence, and decreased loneliness and depression.

While studies have suggested the benefits of AAT, the majority of these findings has largely been anecdotal and have lacked scientific rigor, thus hindering the ability of AAT to be recognized by those in the research, funding and healthcare fields as a sound treatment option. Additional key research gaps – such as the impact of AAT on therapy animals – also exist, which render AAT best practices incomplete.

Three years ago, American Humane Association began the Canines and Childhood Cancer (CCC) Study to rigorously measure the well-being effects of AAT for children with cancer, their parents/guardians, and the therapy dogs who visit them.

Findings to Date

AAT appears especially promising in helping people deal with the effects of cancer as it is a "family disease" that has far-reaching impacts on just not the patient, but all members of the family. AAT protocols are not consistent from handler to handler or from site to site, which has historically made it difficult to ascertain the effects of this therapy and therefore widen its implementation.

Important considerations for implementing and studying AAT in hospitals include addressing infection and safety risk concerns, as well as dog phobias, allergies and aversions. In addition, the dog's needs for safety, comfort and rest must be respected.

Stress, anxiety, and health-related quality of life may be the best outcomes to measure, considering the needs of this population and hospital policies on when therapy dogs can visit.

To learn more about the study, visit:

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