The Role and Impact of Animals with Pediatric Patients
Anna Tielsch Goddard and Mary Jo Gilmer
Animal-facilitated therapy (AFT), more specifically known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT) or “pet therapy,” has had an increased presence in the literature with a surge of recent research methodologies exploring this complementary alternative medicine (CAM) intervention. However, limited studies have been conducted in the pediatric population, with many articles anecdotal in nature. A literature review included primary data sources PubMed, PsychINFO, Medline, and CINAHL, and yielded positive and beneficial outcomes to be gained through AAT in the pediatric population. Primary outcome variables of decreased anxiety and pain are the most commonly reported results. Further research studies are indicated to include the effects of AFT with children with different diseases and diagnoses. Exploration of other psychosocial and physical variables, such as self-esteem, would be useful. Interdisciplinary strategies are needed to develop interventions to help reduce patient symptoms and treatment-associated stress, as well as to facilitate healing and wellness beyond traditional medical treatment plans. Complementary therapies are of continued interest to the health care community, especially for pediatric nurses. Effective use of animals to facilitate conversation, lead discussion, or break communication barriers has been demonstrated through both research and anecdotal reports.