Journal Scan: Animal-assisted therapy helps patients undergoing chemotherapy
Why they did it
Contact with animals has been shown to have various positive effects on human physical and emotional health. The authors of this study sought to evaluate the impact of animal-assisted visits (AAVs) on the quality of life of people receiving multimodal therapy for head or neck and gastrointestinal cancer.
What they did
The researchers enrolled patients who were receiving combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer. Patients with dog allergies or dog aversions were not included. There were 37 patients, predominantly male (68%) with a mean age of 57 years, included in the intent-to-treat analysis.
Patients were administered a quality-of-life questionnaire designed to measure patient status in areas such as personal well-being, social well-being, emotional well-being and functional well-being. A separate 18-item scale was administered biweekly that assessed “patients’ motivation to come to appointments; their tolerance of waiting times; their ability to withstand treatment experience; the effects of the AAV on nausea and pain; the lingering effect of the dog visit after leaving treatment for the day; and the patient’s perception of social support owed to the volunteer, the dog, or both.”
What they found
Despite declines in personal and functional well-being, the researchers noted a statistically significant increase in social well-being (P = 0.03) and emotional well-being (P = 0.004). Patient satisfaction with the use of AAV during cancer therapy was high. The authors do point out, however, that patients self-selected to participate in the study, so it was expected they would have positive attitudes toward pets to begin with.
The study authors acknowledge limitations such as the logistics of scheduling AAVs five days a week for six weeks as well as the inability to blind or randomize parts of the study because of patient preferences and concerns about allergies. The researchers speculate that some of these obstacles would not be as big of a concern in a clinical versus a research setting.
Given the positive impact on the emotional well-being of the patients despite the high burden of symptoms experienced during cancer therapy, AAVs should be considered for all patients in this setting.
Fleishman SB, Homel P, Chen MR, et al. Beneficial effects of animal-assisted visits on quality of life during multimodal radiation-chemotherapy regimens. J Community Support Oncol 2015;13:22-26.