Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

A Systematic Literature Review of Animal Assisted Interventions in Oncology (Part II):Theoretical Mechanisms and Frameworks

Version 1 : Received: 18 December 2019 / Approved: 19 December 2019 / Online: 19 December 2019 (06:45:23 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Integrative Cancer Therapies 2020
DOI: 10.1177/1534735420943269


Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) are a unique class of complementary medical treatments that can improve a patient’s quality of life, both physically and psychologically. Part I of this two-paper systematic literature review series focused on the study methods and quantitative results of researchers in this field. We continue this in-depth review here in Part II by discussing the common theories associated with AAI in the context of cancer. Of all the factors at work in human-animal interactions, researchers explicitly cite compatible animal personality, physical touch, physical movement, distraction/entertainment, and increased human interaction as the mechanisms responsible for the positive clinical outcomes observed in AAI. In various combinations, these mechanisms group under broader theoretical frameworks that attempt to fully explain the AAI context as it relates to cancer care. The social support hypothesis and the conception of a human-animal bond are the most referenced overarching frameworks. The cognitive activation theory of stress, the science of unitary human beings, and the self-object hypothesis are also referenced. We briefly consider other relevant theories commonly noted in the human-animal interactions literature that have the potential to clarify aspects of cancer-related AAI. We also discuss the neurobiological transduction mechanisms needed to connect theoretical frameworks and their mechanisms directly to the observed clinical outcomes. To advance the field, researchers should consider overarching theories with testable hypotheses when designing studies, and use consistent terminology when reporting results. This review lays a foundation for progress towards a unified theoretical framework and for effective treatment of the whole cancer patient.


animal-assisted interventions; animal-assisted activities; animal-assisted therapy; oncology; cancer; human-animal bond; mechanisms; theoretical frameworks


MEDICINE & PHARMACOLOGY, Oncology & Oncogenics

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