"His ears are so soft!" Animal-assisted interventions in oncology settings: Implications for oncology social work practice


"His ears are so soft!" Animal-assisted interventions in oncology settings: Implications for oncology social work practice


Bach C


Journal Of Psychosocial Oncology




Clinical Practice; Ear; Oncology; Skill; Social Work Practice; 50-56-6 (oxytocin); 51-61-6 (dopamine); 62-31-7 (dopamine); 54577-94-5 (oxytocin); 60118-07-2 (endorphin); Adult; Animal Experiment; Animal Model; Anxiety; Blood Pressure; Cancer Patient; Cancer Therapy; Cerebrovascular Accident; Distress Syndrome; Dog; Dopamine; Endogenous Compound; Endorphin; Family Study; Female; Gene Expression; Happiness; Heart Rate; Hospice; Hospital Patient; Human; Human Versus Animal Comparison; Infusion; Male; Narrative; Nonhuman; Oxytocin; Pain; Palliative Therapy; Pet Therapy; Program Development; Recreation; Social Support; Storytelling; Symptom; Total Quality Management; Trust; Volunteer; Waiting Room


Content: The use of recreational, expressive, and integrative methods of providing supportive care to patients and families coping with cancer is growing in cancer treatment settings. One such method is animal-assisted interventions (AAI). From the clinic to the infusion suite, to the palliative care office, and to the inpatient hospice, the presence of therapy animals provides an another layer of therapeutic intervention to assist in coping with cancer. AAI can provide cancer patients with an opportunity for emotional support, diversion, recreation, sensory integration/tactile benefit, social support, companionship, and relief of distress and symptoms including pain, depression, anxiety, and isolation. Research also suggests that the simple act of petting a dog can lower heart rate and blood pressure (Friedman, 2015), as well as increase levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins (Uyemura, 2013). Oxytocin influences happiness and trust in individuals. "Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body's ability to be in a state of readiness to heal.so it predisposes us to an environment in our bodies where we can be healthier" (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/03/09/146583986/ pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other). In addition, the therapy animal serves as a vehicle of communication, narrative, and storytelling. Imagine a patient sitting anxiously in the waiting room. He or she strokes the therapy dog gently and is taken to another time and place without cancer. He or she reflects on his or her own dog's roles in his or her life, how he or she rescued the dog, plays with the dog, sleeps with the dog. He or she is distracted, relaxed, and utilizing his or her own story to invoke feelings of happiness, normalcy, and hope. This presentation will examine the history, function, and roles of animal-assisted therapy and activities in various settings. The benefits of AAI with cancer patients (both adults and children) as well as with oncology professionals will also be presented. AAI as a method of integrative supportive oncology therapy will be addressed. The benefits of AAI as well as barriers and limitations for these programs in oncology settings will be reviewed. We will explore AAI program development and evaluation through presentation of results from quality improvement surveys completed by program participants. Suggestions for program development, volunteer recruitment and retention, and therapy dog support will also be discussed. Case presentations of AAI in action from various oncology settings will be a highlight of this presentation.


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Citation List Month

Oncology 2017 List



Bach C, “"His ears are so soft!" Animal-assisted interventions in oncology settings: Implications for oncology social work practice,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed February 27, 2024, https://pedpalascnetlibrary.omeka.net/items/show/11137.