The Power of Animal-Assisted Therapy

The Power of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Therapeutic Benefits

Baby cuddling with dogAre you a cat person or a dog person?

Even this question recognizes that most of us have connections with animals. This concept is known as biophilia, humans’ innate tendency to bond with animals. While biophilia is complex because of evolution and biological components, there’s no denying that animals often make life better and a little more manageable. In fact, a myriad of evidence has shown that our furry friends can provide therapeutic benefits.

Previous studies have shown that human-animal interactions can help release oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), endorphins, and serotonin and can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Releasing these hormones could help reduce pain and anxiety while increasing relaxation for children undergoing cancer treatment.

There is so much to endure during the cancer journey, including physical, emotional, and mental health challenges. Some of the worst side effects of a pediatric cancer diagnosis include fear and stress, depression, and pain. The medical community widely agrees that nurturing animals may help relieve these symptoms.

In 2014, the International Association of Animal-Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) developed guidelines for therapies based on human-animal bond benefits, including animal-assisted therapy (AAT).

What’s involved in AAT?

AAT is directed by a trained professional and is defined as “focusing on enhancing physical, cognitive, behavioral and/or socio-emotional functioning of the particular human recipient.” Dogs are usually the primary animals used, although programs will adjust based on the patient’s needs.

Does it work?

Patients in a study that focused on pediatric cancer patients also reported a decrease in pain, irritation, stress, and a tendency towards the improvement of depressive symptoms. Caregivers and healthcare providers also felt the benefits, too. AAT helped caregivers improve anxiety, mental confusion, and tension.

Cancer patient with his dog

This is a cancer patient, Chris Vega, right before his transplant with his precious lab by his side, providing comfort and love.

AAT was also proven to distract patients and families successfully by changing the focus of symptoms and procedures. In fact, it was more effective than other methods of distraction in a hospital setting like reading, interaction with volunteers, or recreational activities.

More quantitative research is needed regarding AATs effectiveness in a pediatric cancer setting, but studies to date show promising effectiveness. Of course, animals are a build-on therapy and can’t completely cure. Still, they can be a therapeutic distraction while providing a sense of unconditional love, support, and safety when things feel incredibly overwhelming.

How Here to Serve can help

Here to Serve can help throughout the cancer journey. If you are interested in AAT, we can help source AAT programs that are right for you and your family. In addition to sourcing support services and other resources, Here to Serve provides Family Care Coordinators, an online custom care community where friends, neighbors, loved ones, and the community can assist with home needs. They also help with financial needs. Enduring a cancer diagnosis for you or your child can feel unmanageable and isolating, but you don’t have to go through it alone. If you or someone you know who has children and was recently diagnosed with cancer, Get Help today with Here to Serve.

By Emily Rogalin