Posted on March 8, 2015
Therapy Dogs Help People with Cancer
Animal-assisted visits in cancer treatment centers are gaining in popularity. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy can opt for some doggie face time during their treatments. But does this truly influence the patient’s well-being? Until recently, scientific documentation of the benefits of pet-facilitated therapy for cancer patients has been lacking. A study published in the January Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology provides just such evidence.
The study titled, “Beneficial effects of animal-assisted visits on quality of life during multimodal radiation-chemotherapy regimens” evaluated 37 people undergoing a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for treatment of head and neck cancer. Throughout their treatments, these patients received daily 15-20 minute animal-assisted visits. A questionnaire called the FACT-G (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy- General) was administered three times during the seven-week course of treatment. The responses of the patients demonstrated a significant increase in their sense of social and emotional well-being despite declines in their physical and functional well-being.
Principal researcher, Dr. Steward Fleishman called this study, “the first such definitive study in cancer.” He goes on to say,
Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved quality of life and humanized a high-tech treatment. Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.
There is mounting evidence in human and veterinary medicine that the emotional bond between people and companion animals can have a positive impact on emotional and physical health. These new results help advance our understanding of the value of animal-assisted therapy in cancer treatment and point to the ways the oncology and animal health communities can work together in supporting cancer patients to achieve the best possible outcome.
Hats off to Zoetis Animal Health, Good Dog Foundation, and the researchers who performed this study. My hope is that these results will promote the interest and funding necessary to make animal-assisted therapy in medical settings an integral part of patient care.
What is your experience with animal-assisted therapy?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.