It has long been known that visits from pet therapy animals help improve the emotional well-being of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. How do animal therapy visits help cancer patients who are enduring difficult chemotherapy and radiation treatments? A recent study in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology suggests that animal visits improve the quality of life of these patients as well.
Researchers studied 42 patients receiving both radiation and chemotherapy treatments for head and neck cancers (many at stage 4 of the disease) at a New York cancer center. With the assistance of the Good Dog Foundation, a certified therapy dog was brought to each patient’s radiation and chemotherapy appointment. The patient and dog interacted while the patient was either waiting for or undergoing treatment. Patients were surveyed to evaluate their physical, emotional, social and functional well-being while undergoing treatment with the therapy dog visits.
Results show that, because of the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, their physical and functional well-being declined over the course of treatment. However, both their social and emotional well-being significantly improved over time. The improvement was especially remarkable considering the corresponding decline in physical well-being. Patients showed an enthusiasm for the therapy dog visits over the course of treatment, even as the treatments themselves made the patients more physically uncomfortable.
The authors of the study report many positive comments about the therapy dog visits from the patients, noting that some even maintained contact with the dogs after their participation in the study ended. They conclude that animal assisted therapy visits are beneficial in cancer treatment centers, and cancer centers should look into the viability of visits at their facilities.
For more information on the study, check out the Good Dog Foundation HERE.