A Randomized Controlled Trial of Animal-assisted Activities for Pediatric Oncology Patients: Psychosocial and Microbial Outcomes

J Pediatr Health Care. 2023 Nov 4:S0891-5245(23)00279-1. doi: 10.1016/j.pedhc.2023.09.010. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Evidence about the effectiveness and safety of dog visits in pediatric oncology is limited.

Method: We conducted a randomized controlled trial (n=26) of dog visits versus usual care among pediatric oncology inpatients. Psychological functioning and microbial load from hand wash samples were evaluated. Parental anxiety was a secondary outcome.

Results: We did not observe a difference in the adjusted mean present functioning score (-3.0; 95% confidence interval [CI], -12.4 to 6.4). The difference in microbial load on intervention versus control hands was -0.04 (95% CI, -0.60 to 0.52) log10 CFU/mL, with an upper 95% CI limit below the prespecified noninferiority margin. Anxiety was lower in parents of intervention versus control patients.

Discussion: We did not detect an effect of dog visits on functioning; however, our study was underpowered by low recruitment. Visits improved parental anxiety. With hand sanitization, visits did not increase hand microbial levels.

Clinical trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT03471221.

Keywords: Animal-assisted therapy; cancer; microbial; pediatrics; psychosocial functioning.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03471221