Animal therapy benefits research inconclusive

There's not enough scientific evidence to determine whether animal and human interaction within hospitals actually benefits either party, according to a study published in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide reviewed nine existing research studies on animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) in children's hospitals, but found that the methodology challenges within the studies made it difficult for previous researchers to draw a conclusive argument about AAI for hospitalized children. These methodologies included: definitions and terminology, cultural attitudes, children's receptivity to animals including phobia, child's health status and type of illness, animal welfare and hospital staff attitude toward AAI, according to the study.

Because of the existing studies' limitations, more research was required, researchers concluded.

"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," lead author Anna Chur-Hansen, Ph.D., head of the school of psychology, said in an announcement from the university. "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."

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, more and more U.S. hospitals allow visits from pets. Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. allows family pets to visit as long dogs are at least 12 weeks old, potty trained, vaccinated and have a health certificate from a veterinarian, FierceHealthcare previously reported. "We can fill that gap in children's lives and help them recover by bringing one of their family members--their dogs--to them," Wolfson President Michael Aubin said.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the Adelaide announcement