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

Clinical Nursing Implications

The nursing profession is often noted for seeking out additional interventions to help patients reduce symptoms and treatment-associated stress as well as facilitate healing and wellness beyond traditional medical treatment plans. Complementary therapies are of continued interest to the nursing community. Most studies completed in the pediatric population report both physical and psychological benefits or emotional benefits to the patients. Research studies show systematic benefits of animal-facilitated therapies to reduce pain, decrease psychological distress, and decrease anxiety (Braun et al., 2009; Gagnon et al., 2004; Sobo et al., 2006). The use of an animal to facilitate conversation, lead discussion, or break communication barriers has been demonstrated through both research and anecdotal reports (Chu et al., 2009; Gagnon et al., 2004; Parish-Plass, 2008; Silva et al., 2011; Sobo et al., 2006).

Optimal pain management in patients, especially in pediatrics, is of continued interest to the health care provider. Exploration of interventions for pain relief remains a primary goal for pediatric nurses and researchers. Nurse researchers have explored complementary therapies to potentially provide evidence of pain reduction through areas of CAM, including AFT. Although further research is needed that involves the role of AFT in children, decreased pain reports and decreased anxiety related to pain both seem to be surfacing as outcomes from canine-assisted therapies and activities.

Some facilities and hospitals have policies on pet visits that AAT programs must follow. For example, requiring hand sanitizer use by the patient and the handler before and after visits, placing a clean towel or fresh linen on the bed before the visit, or discouraging feeding treats to the dog during visits (Fine, 2006; Marcus, 2012). Some facilities that allow animal service or therapy visits require parents to sign a canine consent form for the dog to visit while the child is hospitalized (Sobo et al., 2006). Nurses should be familiar with infection control policies as it relates to animal visits at their facilities.