woman walking dog

Pet therapy for cancer patients

woman walking dog

Pets can be an incredible source of comfort and joy for anybody but, for cancer patients, pet therapy can provide emotional and psychological support to enhance a person’s overall well-being. 

Also known as animal-assisted therapy, activities, or interventions, pet therapy involves trained animals – often dogs – providing companionship to individuals in need. Several studies have indicated the potential benefits of utilizing pet therapy to support oncology care. 

By exploring the many ways in which pet therapy can benefit cancer patients, we seek to inspire avenues of support for CRC patients, survivors, and caregivers. 


Pet Therapy to Improve Mood & Overall Well-Being

It’s no secret that animals make people smile, but feeling a sense of emotional support can mean all the difference for someone facing a cancer diagnosis. The unconditional love and companionship offered by therapy animals can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. 

In a Systematic Literature Review of Animal-Assisted Interventions in Oncology, multiple studies were noted that suggest pet therapy can:

  • Decrease levels of depression and anxiety
  • Affect mood neutrally or positively
  • Decrease stress 

One study even showed how pet therapy helped to calm patients enough to improve communication with medical professionals. 

While more consistent research is required to draw thorough conclusions, a growing body of evidence supports the neutral or positive effect pet therapy can have on a cancer patient’s overall well-being.


Incorporating Pet Therapy into Cancer Treatment

To reap the potential benefits of pet therapy, cancer patients can explore a variety of options. 

Hospital Programs: Many hospitals and cancer treatment centers have pet therapy programs in place. These programs bring trained therapy animals to the facility to interact with patients during their treatment or recovery. 

Home Visits: In cases where patients are receiving treatment at home, therapy animals and their handlers can make home visits. This allows patients to experience the benefits of pet therapy in the comfort of their own space. 

Support Groups: Some cancer support groups incorporate pet therapy sessions as part of their regular meetings. This provides an opportunity for patients to share their experiences and bond with others in a supportive environment. 

As with any therapy, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider first. 


When Considering Pet Adoption

Owning and caring for your own pet is different from receiving pet therapy services. Unless you adopt a pet that has been specifically trained for this purpose, the pet may or may not provide similar benefits as a trained therapy animal. 

Still, many cancer patients, survivors, and caretakers who are physically able and interested, may choose to adopt a pet that can provide long-term companionship and emotional support. 

Before adopting a pet, however, it’s important to consider any contraindications to your lifestyle. Caring for certain animals may increase the risk of infection for immunocompromised patients. Additionally, the use of systematic radiation may require you to avoid contact with your pets for a period of time. Speaking to a healthcare provider can help clear up any questions or concerns you may have.

It’s equally as important to consider the well-being of the animal. Owning a pet is a lifelong commitment that should be carefully considered before taking on this responsibility. If pet ownership is not an option, there are still many pet therapy programs to take advantage of. A quick internet search for “pet therapy near [your location]” should yield a variety of choices. 


The Alliance Talks Pet Therapy for Colorectal Cancer 

Each person and situation is unique. While pet therapy may not work for everyone, it can be a valuable resource to consider for many CRC patients, survivors, and caregivers. 

Marianne Pearson, the Alliance’s Senior Director of Patient Navigation, shares her insights surrounding pet therapy and colorectal cancer. 

“Having worked in the cancer field for over 20 years and being a colorectal cancer survivor myself, I’m well aware of the benefits pet therapy can provide,” Marianne said. “At the end of the day, we want people to get the help and support they need to beat this disease. If pet therapy can offer that, we’re all for it.” 

The Alliance is committed to ending colorectal cancer in our lifetime and supporting every CRC patient, survivor, and caretaker on our way there. 

As cancer patients navigate the challenges of their illness and treatment, the bond between humans and animals can make a significant difference. Whether looking to incorporate pet therapy into oncology care or not, the Alliance is here to support colorectal cancer patients every step of the way. 


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