Friday, January 29, 2016

Studying the value of dogs on patients with pediatric cancer

About a year ago, I traveled to Johns Hopkins Medical Center to go for my son's allergy appointment.  Food allergies are not fun.  They are annoying, somewhat life-changing (the Indian food my son once loved is probably not going to be a pleasure for him again, or at least for a long time).  Thinking of that, along with the "pleasure" of driving around inner-city Baltimore, can kind of get you in a down mood.  As I was pulling into the parking lot, I noticed a teenager with a surgical mask and a bandana over head (probably from hair loss due to chemo or radiation).  That was a jolt out of my self-pity.  I realized how blessed I was that my son ONLY had a food allergy, something annoying, and potentially life threatening, but something that could be avoided, and treated, if need be.

I hope my family never has to go through the trials of pediatric cancer.  I wish we could erase cancer off the planet, period, but that is perhaps too big a request for this generation.  Perhaps the next...

I listened to a very intriguing podcast over my "snow weekend" by Tracie Hotchner who is known as The Radio Pet Lady.  Her podcast and radio show can be accessed through NPR, also known as, "Dogs Talk and Kitties, Too!"  She has agreed to let me share the link with you:  Canines and Childhood Cancer
There has been a study that has been going on about 2 years with 78 children (they would like to enroll around 100).  Looking at the interactions between pediatric cancer patients and therapy dogs as well as their families and parents.  This is an innovative study as many in the human medical profession and even families are wary of pets in the lives of their immunocompromised patients.  Therapy dogs are tested for zoonoses (diseases that are transmitted to people) as well as general health by veterinarians.  I have had the privilege of doing a couple of these exams.  They also have to pass tests for temperament and training.  They are probably healthier and "safer" than many people these children could come in contact with.

 The study measured the humans blood pressure and pulse and found that when they had regular, weekly interactions with the therapy dog, these values were stable and didn't have as many peaks and troughs and that the same was true of the parent's stress anxiety.  They measured the dog's cortisol levels as well as body language.  (See previous post: Sibling rivalry with a link to a great website on dog body language)  When they took these measurements, they saw that the dog did not have any negative side effects with these interactions.  I find this very interesting and think this could be a really good way to help some medical professionals avoiding compassion fatigue, a form of Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  We often, in the veterinary as well as human medical profession become the recipients of much anxiety, we help to shoulder others loads and in the process put a lot on ourselves.

Science aside, there was also anecdotal information in the interview about a little girl who loved the big Newfoundland who came to visit her and brightened her day.  They say it is not unusual that the patients who don't want to go to the hospital for treatment do want to go to see their canine buddy, so it makes their trip a little more bearable.

Hopefully this new research will help everyone in the pediatric oncology community in the future.

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