This study assessed the feasibility of studying animal-assisted activities (AAA) in inpatient pediatric oncology and collected preliminary data on potential benefits of AAA for this population. Patients at a large pediatric hospital were identified using electronic medical records and approached with physician approval. Patients completed surveys before and after a therapy dog visit in their private hospital room. Data on infections were ascertained by electronic medical record review. Provider surveys were placed in provider common areas and distributed through a link in an e-mail. We summarized resultsusing descriptive statistics and estimated mean changes in pre- and postintervention distress and conducted hypothesis tests using the paired t test. The study population (mean age = 12.9 years) consisted of 9 females and 10 males. Following the therapy dog visit, patients had lower distress and significant decreases in worry, tiredness, fear, sadness, and pain. Providers were generally supportive of the intervention. Eight patients developed infections during the 14 days after the dog visit but none could be clearly attributed to the therapy dog visit. The study's primary limitation was that there was no control group. However, results support the feasibility of and need for future studies on AAA in pediatric oncology.
Keywords: animal-human bonding; cancer; distress; pet therapy.