Pet Therapy Reduces Symptoms At A Cancer Center

Pet therapy reduces symptoms at a cancer center

As you know, I have two therapy dogs who visit people at cancer centers. Toby is part of a group of dogs visiting patients during chemotherapy at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. The positive response from those people we visit was the inspiration for my books Therapy Dogs in Cancer Care and Ever Faithful: How Your Dog Can Help You Fight Cancer. Rather than simply focusing on what I see happening with Toby and Wheatie during visits, we decided to conduct a research study to explore what people really thought about receiving dog visits at the cancer center. The results were just published in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care.

Over a six-month period, people receiving visits from a therapy dog were invited to participate in a survey about their experiences. People took surveys home and mailed them back to the hospital volunteer office. During the study, 11 different medium and large dogs provided therapy visits. Most visits occurred at the cancer infusion center to patients receiving chemotherapy. About half of those invited to complete the survey did so.

Here’s what we found:

  • Everyone at the cancer center had a positive impression about the visit
    • The best part of the visit was petting the dog for 55 percent of people and talking with the dog for 29 percent. Less than 10 percent thought talking with the handler or remembering good memories was the best part of the visit
  • When asked about what they didn’t like about the visit, 55 percent said the visit was too short and 39 percent said there was nothing they didn’t like
    • 6 percent worried about germs
  • People reported receiving much to great benefit for a wide range of symptoms:
    • About 90 percent or more reported much to great benefit for reduced stress, improved mood, and increased relaxation
    • Around 80 percent reported reduced worry and improved attitude
    • Half found the visit decreased their sense of loneliness and isolation
    • About one-third reported the visit resulted in decreased pain, improved sleep, and improved appetite

Interestingly, benefits were the same for:

  • Men and women
  • People who currently owned a dog and those who had never owned a dog
  • People who considered themselves to be a “dog person” or “not a dog person”

This study highlights the incredible impact therapy dog visits can make for people struggling with difficult health problems. These visits can be powerful medicine. Wagging tails can be just what the doctor ordered for people going through a rough time with chemotherapy and other treatments.

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  1. so, so true, dogs are wonderful animals. The dog on the picture here, what kind is he as he looks just like the dog we found along side the road when he was a puppy 7 years ago. We kept him and he has been such a joy to my life. No one has ever been able to pinpoint his breed.

  2. hello- my cousin had a therapy dog and went to the VA hospital in northport,l.i.ny. hes gone now but he did his work.

    I have a lasha and I wanted him to be a therapy dog too but he had a rough streak to him-totaslly independent. now that hes old he is very mellow. these dogs are GOD sent to help us. we have to cherish all living creatures. do u agree? I will sign off spiritually yours.

  3. My dog Toby and I just returned from a visit to a cancer center and I have no doubt that his visit lifted spirits, reduced stress, and added hope for people receiving chemotherapy and their family members. Research proves the incredible healing power from time with a friendly pet.

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 27, 2013 at 12:10 am

    Thanks Dawn for sharing. So true.

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