Beneficial effects of animal-assisted visits on quality of life during multimodal radiation-chemotherapy regimens

J Community Support Oncol. 2015 Jan;13(1):22-6. doi: 10.12788/jcso.0102.


Background: Animal-assisted visits (AAVs) are commonplace in cancer centers, but there is little evidence of their usefulness.

Objective: To test the efficacy of AAVs in improving the quality of life in patients with head and neck cancer receiving combined chemotherapy-radiation therapy.

Methods: 42 patients consented to daily AAVs during the time they received therapy for head and neck cancer. The Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General Scale (FACT-G) was administered at baseline, week 3, and week 7 (at the end of therapy), and the Satisfaction With The AAV Intervention instrument, an 18-item scale adapted from the Pet Attitude Scale.

Results: 37 patients completed at least baseline and 1 follow-up assessment for a single group analysis of change over time. Means for Fact-G subscales showed significant declines in Physical Well-Being (PWB, P < .001) and Functional Well-Being (FWB, P = .003). In contrast, Social Well-Being increased (SWB, P = .03). Controlling for declines in PWB at each time point, increases in Emotional Well-Being (EWB) were also significant (P = .004).

Limitations: Scheduling and patient preference prevented conducting a randomized trial.

Conclusion: FACT-G analysis showed significant increase in SWB and EWB despite high symptom burden and clinically evident and expected declines in PWB and FWB. Mean scores for satisfaction related to psychological symptoms, liking animals/pets, and contact with animals were consistently higher than neutral score or Unsure (all, P < .001). Satisfaction related to physical symptoms was not significantly different from neutral. Though self-selected for an affinity to pets, patients endorsed a high level of satisfaction, which supports the usefulness of this intervention.

Keywords: animal assisted visits; concurrent radiation-chemotherapy; dog therapy; quality of life intervention.