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AHA, Zoetis Launch Study of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Posted: June 3, 2013, 1:50 p.m. EDT


A study sponsored by the American Humane Association and the veterinary pharmaceutical maker Zoetis Inc. will examine the effects of animal-assisted therapy on pediatric oncology patients, their families and the therapy dogs.

The project, announced today, will begin with a pilot clinical trial involving children’s hospitals in Tampa, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn. Up to five children’s hospitals will participate in a full clinical trial expected to start later this year and last 12 to 18 months.

"We see examples every day of the powerful connection that exists between pet owners and their companions, between returning veterans and their waiting friends, between veterinarians and their patients, so we knew we had to help define a more rigorous scientific foundation for this bond to be adopted in health care and therapy,” said Vanessa Mariani, director of academic and professional affairs for Madison, N.J.-based Zoetis. "We have already seen enthusiasm for this type of therapy in several hospitals, and we hope our data will allow for more regular adoption of animal-assisted therapy.”

 Therapy dog
More than 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States.
Cioli/I-5 Publishing
The Canines and Childhood Cancer study is a randomized, controlled trial that will examine specific health effects that animal-assisted therapy have on young cancer patients and their families.

The therapeutic benefits of animal-assisted therapy for cancer patients have been shared anecdotally by doctors, patients, caregivers and animal handlers, the study sponsors reported. But little evidence is available to substantiate the claims, they said, and no rigorous evaluations have been done to determine how to best implement animal-assisted therapy in pediatric oncology settings.

American Humane Association researchers have hypothesized that the groups participating in animal-assisted therapy will experience less distress throughout the course of the patients’ treatment. The researchers will use biological and psychological measures to test their assumptions.

The study also will measure the effects of animal-assisted therapy on the dogs themselves.

American Humane Association animal-assisted therapy teams have worked for years in hospitals, prisons and schools and with military families, said Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., the Washington, D.C., group’s president and CEO.

"We are hopeful that the Canines and Childhood Cancer study will show how animal-assisted therapy should be regularly administered to pediatric oncology patients and their families as part of the recovery process,” Ganzert said. "This study has the potential to impact tens of thousands of children.”

The patient population for the pilot study will be children ages 3 to 11 who are newly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—the most commonly diagnosed childhood cancer—or who have been in treatment for less than 12 months.   

The results of the pilot and full clinical trials are expected to be reported through conferences and peer-reviewed journals.

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