Doctors say they have known about the value of therapy pets in hospitals for years, but such reports have been largely anecdotal. (Agencies)
Now, backed by a nearly USD 1 million grant from veterinary health firm Zoetis, with matching funds from the Pfizer Foundation, the American Humane Association is launching what advocates say is the first clinical trial of the effects of animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, on young cancer patients and their families.
The randomised, controlled trial will follow 100 children who are newly diagnosed with cancer, including 50 who receive targeted visits from therapy dogs, and 50 who will receive standard treatment.
Five children's hospitals will participate in the year-long study of kids’ ages 3 to 12 who get regular chemotherapy in outpatient clinics, a leading news channel reported.
The study will track blood pressure, heart rate and psychological responses in the kids, their families and the caregivers, said Amy McCullough, AHA's national director of humane research and therapy.
It will also test the effect on the dogs, measuring the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the animals' saliva before and after visits.
The goal is to gather the first-ever clinical details about the physical and psychological effects of animal therapy on the child patients, their families and caregivers, McCullough said.
If the results show clear benefit, as expected, they could pave the way for far wider use of some 50,000 registered therapy dogs in children's hospitals in US.
Doctors say they have known about the value of therapy pets in hospitals for years, but such reports have been largely anecdotal.