Researchers: Pets could help kids with cancer


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More than 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of these kids have to endure painful treatments that trigger stress, anxiety and depression.

Researchers are studying a drug-free and inexpensive way to help the kids feel better.

Bryce Greenwell is no stranger to tests or hospitals. He has leukemia and will undergo treatments for the next three years or more.

"I don't know how he does it, you know, he's amazing," said Jenny Greenwell, Bryce's mother.

A little pup named Swoosh is making Bryce's hospital visits much more bearable.

"It gives us something to talk about. He gets excited to come see Swoosh," Jenny said.

Bryce and Swoosh are participating in a study to determine if dogs can help pediatric cancer patients.

Mary Jo Gilmer, director of Palliative Care Research at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, understands the impact the disease has on lives and is excited to see how the dogs can help.

"We know that the disease takes a terrible emotional toll on families," said Gilmer. "It's very obvious to me, just anecdotally, that those dogs are making a difference; that interaction is making a difference."

Studies in adult patients have shown interaction with man's best friend can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and improve lung function. This is the first pilot study to test animal therapy in kids with cancer. 

The dogs spend about 15 minutes with patients before treatments. The kids have their pulse and blood pressure checked before and after, along with a questionnaire.

The dogs even have their saliva checked to determine if they experience stress, but Swoosh's owner Michelle Thompson said she doesn't think that's the case.

"He loves to work. He loves to get his vest on, and he's excited to go," Thompson explained.

It's therapy that any kid would love!

Researchers are using 120 families across the country for this study. They are still collecting data and cannot report on results, but Gilmer said they have noticed children who interact with the dogs require less anti-anxiety medications than they did before the pet therapy.

Additional Information:

Animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy is a treatment that uses trained dogs or other trained animals to boost recovery and comfort a patient dealing with health disorders such as heart disease and cancer. The interaction with the pet always includes the pet's handler and is believed to boost happiness and optimism for the patient. Pet therapy is mostly conducted in medical settings but is also being tested in public universities and the community to help individuals cope with stress and anxiety. (Source: www.healthline.com)

EFFECTS: Some positive effects that pet therapy has had on patients include:

  • Improved self esteem
  • Increase in verbal communication
  • Increase in willingness to join in activities
  • Motivate willingness to exercise

(Source: www.healthline.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A study at Vanderbilt is investigating if therapy dogs can have a positive impact on children with cancer. Pet therapy is believed to help these children develop a more relaxed, optimistic mindset while they undergo chemotherapy. The Vanderbilt researchers will examine what effects the pet therapy plays on the anxiety of the children as well as the distress level of the therapy dogs being used. The study takes place in five locations across the U.S. and will study up to 20 children suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia and lymphoblastic lymphoma. Treatment will include one month of chemotherapy at the hospital and weekly chemotherapy sessions afterward where the therapy dogs will make their visits with the children. (Source: Kathy Rivers)