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Animal-Assisted Interventions for Children with Advanced Cancer: Child and Parent Perceptions

By B. A. Cowfer, T. F. Akard, M. J. Gilmer

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Background: The burden of relapsed/refractory childhood cancer takes an immense toll on ill children and their caregivers, jeopardizing quality of life. Animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) have shown promising benefits for children with chronic conditions and their families. Little is known about child and caregiver perspectives on AAI participation for children with advanced cancer. Objective: To explore perspectives of children with advanced cancer and their caregivers on experiences with AAIs. Design: Cross-sectional qualitative design. Setting/Subjects: Participants were children (n = 9) aged 5 to 17 years with relapsed or refractory cancer and their parents (n = 12) from one academic children's hospital in the southeastern United States. Participants completed approximately weekly 15-minute AAI sessions with a trained dog and handler during oncology clinic visits or hospitalizations for up to 12 weeks. Measures: Semistructured interviews were carried out after completion of each family's final AAI session to assess child and parent perceptions of AAIs. Qualitative content analysis identified themes. Results: Five themes emerged: (1) positive aspects, (2) negative aspects, (3) preferred changes, (4) pet ownership, and (5) value of the study. Twenty (95%) participants shared positive aspects of AAIs. The only negative aspect reported was too little time with the dog. Conclusion: Children with advanced cancer and their parents perceive AAIs as desirable with few requested changes. Further studies are needed to fully evaluate impact of AAIs. Identifier: NCT03765099.

Publication Title Palliat Med Rep
Volume 2
Issue 1
Pages 328-334
ISBN/ISSN 2689-2820
DOI 10.1089/pmr.2021.0039
Author Address Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted interventions
  2. Cancer
  3. oncology
  4. open access
  5. Palliative Care
  1. open access