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

Method of Review

This literature review provides a synthesis of the current state of the science of animal therapy in pediatric patients. A comprehensive database search was conducted in October and November 2012 to accessible library databases, including PubMed, Psych-INFO, Medline, and CINAHL. The main search terms used were animalassisted therapy, animal-assisted activities, animal therapy, pet therapy, and canine therapy. The literature search was specifically focused on the use of animals as therapeutic agents within pediatrics identified with search terminology of pediatrics, youth, child, children, and adolescents. In PubMed, medical subject headings (MeSH) terms were used with Boolean operators. Secondary searching of journal manuscripts not found in the primary search was also reviewed for additional references. Expert recommendations were sought through email inquiry to Pet Partners and the AVMA. Limitations to the literature search were the various uses of and definitions for the terms "animalassisted therapy" or "pet therapy." Only studies available in English were explored. Results were not restricted to date. Identified databased manuscripts were critically analyzed for quality research design and methodology.

Terminology related to the types and titles of pet therapy differs among the literature reviewed. Therapeutic animal interactions have been interchangeably referred to as "animal-facilitated therapy," "pet therapy," "animal-assisted activities," "animal-assisted therapy," and "animal-assisted interactions." Upon reviewing scientific studies and results using these interventions, distinguishing among terminologies may be necessary to properly evaluate the researchers' claims of study results. For instance, Sobo, Eng, and Kassity-Krich (2006) re ported positive benefits after "canine visitation therapy" as an AAT intervention. However, on review of specific intervention method ology, the therapeutic visit consisted of spending time with the child, sleeping with the child, allowing the child to pet her, and performing tricks for the child (Sobo et al., 2006). This specific intervention actually describes AATs that, although are therapeutic to the patient, are not classified under Pet Partner's classification of animal-assisted "therapy." Although the variety of animal interactions may differ in actual definition, benefits have been found among all substitute terms for these animal-facilitated interactions in both adult and pediatric patients.