Vanderbilt University Leads Pet Therapy Research for Childhood Cancer

20 Nov 2014 | Written by Freshpet

Help us give back to this worthy cause in this week’s Tail of Good.

  Every year over 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer. And for kids dealing with the struggle of disease, stress, anxiety and depression are often unwanted side effects. As a way to combat the emotional suffering, Vanderbilt University is working to prove that furry friends can benefit the wellbeing of these patients.   This research program stems from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. It is designed to match children 3 to 17 years old with a volunteer therapy dog. These dogs live in the nearby area, and their parents donate their time at the clinic. Each time a child arrives at the clinic for chemotherapy, his or her “match” is also there, ready for a 15-minute designated play and cuddle session. The research is meant to dig into how therapy dogs can aid as a credible nursing service. Mary Jo Gilmer, a Vanderbilt Professor and Nurse Researcher, says, “we all want to think that pet therapy helps, but we need the evidence to back that up, to see if it is a sound treatment option for patients and their families.”


One patient, Bryce, is five years old and frequents Vanderbilt’s Hospital for chemo treatments to battle his Leukemia. When Bryce first began his treatments, he was nervous, scared and stressed. That’s when he was paired with Swoosh, a toy Pomeranian that now visits Bryce every week to help him relax. Bryce is then surveyed after his time spent with Swoosh to monitor his progress. He now smiles, seems more at ease and says he is “not scared at all.” “We’re trying to decrease the stress and anxiety, and increase the quality of life for children from the time they are diagnosed with cancer through treatment,” says Gilmer.


Gilmer hopes to have preliminary results this summer to help shine more light on the bond shared between people and animals.   At Freshpet, we strongly believe in the emotional benefits that pets bring to us each day. We’re thrilled to help support this research and hope that the findings will help to spread pet therapy programs to hospitals and clinics across the country. And the best part is that you can help!   As part of our #FreshDance Challenge for wellness, we will make a donation to Vanderbilt’s Pet Therapy Research Program for every entry we receive. And, our friends at BarkPost have generously offered to match our donation. So, send in your #FreshDance submission by Friday, 11/21 at midnight EST at   You can see all of our Tails of Good by visiting our Tumblr page. ToG_button[1]

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