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Can Puppy Love Help Kids Fight Cancer?

Can Puppy Love Help Kids Fight Cancer?

While many people, including health professionals, believe in the power of animals to help us heal, advocates of that belief are now trying to give it some scientific backing with a study that’s examining the benefits of therapy dogs on children with cancer.

According to the American Humane Association, each year in the U.S. almost 13,000 children are newly diagnosed with cancer and more than 40,000 are in treatment at any given time. While billions are spent on improving treatments and trying to improve quality of life we’ve been overlooking a powerful weapon to help fight the war on childhood cancer: the unconditional love of a dog.

AHA is launching what’s believed to be the first clinical trial that will study the physical and psychological effects of animal assisted therapy (AAT) on children, their families and the participating dogs themselves to make sure they’re enjoying what they do.

Thoughts from parents who commented on the endeavor to NBC News ranged from excitement to surprise that a study would even be needed to prove something we already know.

According to the AHA, while we might know deep down that our bond with animals can help us in many different ways, the evidence surrounding the effectiveness of AAT in pediatric oncology is limited. While many support the use of therapy animals, there is a lack of scientific research in this area. According to the organization:

While studies have suggested the benefits of AAT, the majority of these findings have largely been anecdotal and have lacked scientific rigor, thus hindering the ability of AAT to be recognized by those in the research, funding and healthcare fields as a sound treatment option. Additional key research gaps such as the impact of AAT on therapy animals also exist, which render AAT best practices incomplete.

The AHA and supporters believe solid data is needed to help promote this type of therapy in treatment programs to help both sick children and families who are dealing with the weight of a serious disease.

“I think [AAT] plays a huge role. If they’re happy and they have a good outlook, they’re much more likely to tolerate their medicines,” said Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer, a pediatric cancer expert at Texas Children’s Hospital. “A clinical trial that will no doubt be beneficial to the kids gives a lot more credence for hospitals around the country to use it.”

The Canines and Childhood Cancer (CCC) Study began with a a six-month pilot study and has since been expanded to full 12-month clinical trial that’s being conducted at five children’s hospitals where researchers will follow 100 children, between the ages of 3 and 12, who have had a recent cancer diagnosis. Half of the children will get regular visits from dogs and the other half will get standard treatment.

Amy McCullough, AHA’s national director of humane research and therapy, told NBC the study will track blood pressure, heart rate and psychological responses in the kids, their families and the caregivers, in addition to tracking stress levels in dogs before and after visits by measuring cortisol in their saliva.

The results are expected in the next 12-15 months and if all goes as expected, it could give the belief that animals help us heal some serious credibility, which will in turn help expand AAT programs.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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64 comments

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10:06AM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

Yes, any type of love can change health.

11:12AM PDT on May 23, 2014

I´m not sure about cancer, but I can tell you for sure that having a pet will make your life better!! Life with no animals: I don´t think so!!

5:55PM PDT on May 16, 2014

The love and affection of an animal is truly rewarding is so many ways. I cannot imagine my life without my furry gang.

3:05AM PDT on May 16, 2014

amazing!!
helping children with cancer just by taking puppies or dogs round to comfort them.. a dogs love is incomparable to anything else!

7:55PM PDT on May 15, 2014

I truly believe this study will prove what we all know. Nothing heals like the love of a dog. Children who have never spoken have talked after being introduced to a theraphy dog and brought them out of their shell of silence! It Has to help a child in the hospital get their mind off all the probing and poking they get just to have a dog near. It takes their mind off from all the fear their facing and always puts a smile in their face.It will be the best thing they can do for a child facing a scaring stay in the hospital. It can't help but not improve their minds!

7:01PM PDT on May 15, 2014

Yes, studies already prove petting & stroking hand/arm/wrist movements improve yr immune system, benefit the brain & spine & hormone balance & biochemistry. Yes, dogs licking a spot over and over on their owner has led to early correct diagnosis of cancer. Yes, animals (like horse back riding) are in legitimate almost mainstream use to fix the unfixable in children. Yes, we are in a symbiotic world. I also tree hug and eat fresh grass & "weeds"! Yay, world. Enjoy every precious moment.

2:54AM PDT on May 15, 2014

ty

11:07PM PDT on May 14, 2014

I'm a believer in, and an advocate of, animal therapy, having done pet therapy (as a volunteer) at a major hospital for almost 12 years. Although, at the time, my two dogs and I did not visit any patients with suppressed immune systems, we visited enough wards - and often enough - to see the progress the patients made. Those who accepted the animal visits recovered more quickly than those who did not. This occurred time after time - in cardiology, neurology, orthopedics and psychiatry.

Those who heel, heal!

10:48PM PDT on May 14, 2014

It is already a known fact that animal therapy works.

9:44PM PDT on May 14, 2014

My Chow Chow lick me until I was up, when I got the stroke. Dogs and cats are Angels who come to us for a reason. I don't care about the science, I know they heal.

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