The Role and Impact of Animals With Pediatric Patients

Anna Tielsch Goddard, MSN, BS, RN, CPNP-PC; Mary Jo Gilmer, PhD, MBA, RN-BC, FAAN


Pediatr Nurs. 2015;41(2):65-71. 

In This Article

Areas for Additional Research

Although there has been a recent surge in literature related to AFT and benefits to pet companionship over the last 10 years, further study of AAT, especially in teens and youth, is indicated. For example, several pilot studies explored AAT in children with cancer. Studies exploring the usefulness and comparison of similar outcomes, such as decrease in stress or anxiety, would be useful in pediatric participants with different disease states and diagnoses. Additional outcomes, such as self-esteem, activities of daily living, or the overall impact of AFT visits, could also be explored in different pediatric populations. Further, most experimental and research designs have focused aims on the use of canines in AFT with children. Explorations of AFT with the use of cats, rabbits, or even birds as a therapeutic milieu for children have yet to be explored heavily in research.

There is also a lack of scientific data defining a specific protocol for these animal-facilitated intervention procedures. Delivery of animal interventions may differ from study to study, and specific details of the therapeutic procedure are often not reported. When evaluating outcome data from experimental studies, analysis of the animal interaction between the animal and child should be recognized.

A widespread belief exists that the child-animal interaction is beneficial to children's development on both a social-emotional and cognitive level (Melson, 2003). However, there is a lack of rigorous and peer-reviewed published studies showing this connection. The human-animal bond continues to be explored across multiple disciplines, such as veterinary medicine and clinical psychology with a variety of variables under in vestigation.

Finally, due to lack of financial support for most experimental studies evaluating AAA or AAT, many studies are done with small convenience samples. Further, no longitudinal studies have been completed with AAT in pediatrics. Many studies that have been done with animals have been conducted in the adult or geriatric population. Therefore, a broad and general need for experimental studies examining the influences, role, and different psychosocial variables that AFT interventions can contribute to the pediatric population are warranted. In conclusion, rigorous intervention studies that examine the role and impact of animals with children are needed as we strive to alleviate children's symptoms and treatment-associated stress.