The Benefits of Pet Therapy

For many of us, the stress from a hard day at work quickly disappears when we’re greeted at the front door by our four-legged friends, eagerly wagging their tails.

Dogs, cats and other pets have an amazing therapeutic effect, an idea that is being used to provide help for cancer patients.

Why animal therapy?

We’ve all heard of chemotherapy for cancer patients, but animal-assisted therapy is a concept many people may not be familiar with.

The trend centers on the concept that animals can be mood-boosters and, when patients are dealing with a diagnosis as scary as cancer, lifting one’s spirits can promote better physical and mental health.

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, animals can be an important source of both distraction and comfort; often, cancer patients are focused on their condition around the clock, but when they instead devote their attention to a visiting animal, they’re given a helpful reprieve from their stress. Also, simply petting an animal has been shown to stimulate your mood.

Cynthia Ingram, the Animal Therapy Coordinator at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Illinois campus, noted that studies have proven that therapy dogs may lower levels of anxiety and depression.

“Therapy dogs can provide for a sense of comfort and overall wellbeing, and present a more home-like atmosphere,” she added.

How does it work?

Cancer programs across the country are incorporating animal-assisted therapy into their services.

In addition to Cancer Treatment Centers, pet programs have also sprung up at places like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Pet Partners is an entire organization devoted to connecting animals with everyone from cancer patients to veterans to seniors.

Programs vary, but most entail organizers bringing their furry volunteers to a hospital setting for pre-arranged sessions where they accompany a patient to his or her therapy program. Animal-assisted activity is a less-scheduled alternative where patients can meet and greet the pets in casual settings.

No matter how the animals are assisting, it’s important they’re well-trained and certified. Ingram of Cancer Treatment Centers of America and her pup, Tori, underwent a lengthy evaluation process with Pet Partners before Tori was ready to start working with patients, and the pair gets re-certified every two years.

While dogs are often the most common therapy pets, they certainly aren’t the only ones — cats and even horses have also been known to offer help for cancer patients!

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