Study Finds No Scientific Evidence That Animal Visits Help Hospitalized Children

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Animals regularly make the rounds at children’s hospitals and other care facilities in an attempt to brighten the days and raise the spirits of the patients, but is there any scientific evidence that such visits are actually beneficial?

Based on a global review of studies analyzing the impact of “animal interventions” in healthcare settings for children conducted by researchers at the University of Adelaide, the answer to that question is no – there is no proof that these visits are beneficial for either the patients or the animals themselves.

Lead author Professor Anna Chur-Hansen, the head of the university’s school of psychology, and her colleagues report that there is a significant gap in scientific knowledge on the benefits of animals for sick youngsters. Their findings appear in a recent edition of the journal Anthrozoös.

“If you speak with most people they’ll say it’s a good thing for animals such as dogs and cats to be taken into hospitals, so that patients can derive some form of therapeutic effect from their association with the animals,” Chur-Hansen explained in a statement Wednesday.

She said that ever since the term “human-animal bond” was first coined during the 1980s, people have just assumed that animals could provide people in healthcare or palliative care with an enhanced sense of wellbeing. This assumption has given rise to multiple animal support organizations designed to assist patients.

“However, the scientific world has done such a poor job of researching this field that no-one can truly say what the benefits are, how they work, or whether such a situation causes problems or distress – or the exact opposite – for the animals themselves,” the professor noted.

“The assumption is that these programs are beneficial – and from the little evidence available they are likely to be – but no-one has yet fully assessed the range of issues associated with the human-animal bond in the healthcare setting,” Chur-Hansen added.

According to the study authors, there are several questions surrounding the practice of animal-hospital visits. For instance, is it better for patients to receive visits from their own pets or from someone else’s pet? Are there any risks associated with having animals visit sick kids on site? Does it raise any disease-control issues? What effect do these types of visits have on the creatures themselves, and are the visits inappropriate for some cultures?

“Given the limited information around AAI [animal-assisted interventions] for hospitalized children, including the risks and benefits and the limitations of existing studies, future research is required,” they wrote. “This should take into account the methodological considerations discussed in this review, so that our knowledge base can be enhanced and if and where appropriate, such interventions be implemented and rigorously evaluated.”

“Our hope is that by better understanding what’s really happening, we’ll be able to develop guidelines that will lead to best practice – guidelines that could be used by animal support groups and healthcare professionals alike,” added Chur-Hansen.

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