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Impact of an animal-assisted therapy programme on physiological and psychosocial variables of paediatric oncology patients

Journal title
PloS one
Publication year
2018
Author(s)
Silva, N. B.; Osorio, F. L.
Pages
e0194731
Volume
13
Number
4

The objective of this study was to propose an intervention and safety protocol for performing animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and evaluating its efficacy in children under outpatient oncological treatment based on psychological, physiological, and quality of life indicators for the children and caregivers. The sample consisted of 24 children diagnosed with leukaemia and solid tumours (58% girls with a mean age of 8.0 years) who underwent an AAT programme consisting of three 30-min sessions in an open group. Two dogs (one Labrador retriever and one golden retriever) were used, and activities such as sensory stimulation, gait training, and socialization were conducted. The exclusion criteria were severe mental problems, inability to answer the questions included in the instruments used, allergy to animals, unavailability/lack of interest, isolation precaution, surgical wound, use of invasive devices, ostomy, no current blood count for evaluation, neutropaenia, infection, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, respiratory symptoms at the beginning of the intervention or 1 week before the intervention, hospitalization or scheduled surgery, and non-completion of the AAT programme. The variables analysed using validated self or other evaluations were stress, pain, mood, anxiety, depression, quality of life, heart rate, and blood pressure. A quasi-experimental study design was used. We observed a decrease in pain (p = 0.046, d = -0.894), irritation (p = 0.041, d = -0.917), and stress (p = 0.005; d = -1.404) and a tendency towards improvement of depressive symptoms (p = 0.069; d = -0.801). Among the caregivers, an improvement was observed in anxiety (p = 0.007, d = -1.312), mental confusion (p = 0.006, d = -1.350), and tension (p = 0.006, d = -1.361). Therefore, the selection criteria and care protocols used for the AAT programme in the oncological context were adequate, and the programme was effective.

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