What Is Pet Therapy?

A lung cancer diagnosis is an intimidating and scary time for the patient. Pet therapy offers a palliative way to support the patient’s mental health and cope with the general outlook throughout their cancer journey. Adding to that, animals and humans have been longtime companions and share a strong bond. Because of this, medical professionals have been recommending animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for decades. Moreover, most patients who enlist in AAT report improved moods and mental health when they enlist in animal-assisted therapies. Those who can benefit from this type of complementary treatment include patients:

  • Going through cancer treatments and recovery
  • In long-term health facilities
  • With dementia, cardiovascular illness, PTSD, anxiety, or depression
  • In hospice care

Additionally, family members and loved ones may also benefit from the presence of a therapy animal. Especially when they’re sitting around anxiously in waiting rooms while the patient is in treatment or at a follow-up medical visit.

Pet Assisted Therapy and Cancer

When cancer patients utilize AAT, they may notice emotional and physical improvements. The feeling of companionship can be strong in some people, and studies suggest that pet ownership decreases the risk of cardiac complications. Other reported improvements are:

  • Reduced stress
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Feelings of calm
  • Boost in mood
  • Increase in memory
  • Less anxiety and social isolation
  • Emotional connection
  • Hope
  • Improved motor skills and function

For cancer patients specifically, the benefits of pet therapy can encompass:

  • Less pain and need for pain medication
  • Reduced psychological crisis
  • Boost in energy

Studies aren’t conclusive, however, on the exact efficacy of pet therapy. Do not replace primary anti-cancer treatments with pet-assisted therapy or any other type of complementary or palliative care.

How It Works

While it may seem simple, there are a few important details about pet therapy lung cancer patients should know.

The Science

Scientists have been testing the effects of pet therapy on patients for many years. Their research demonstrates the release of endorphins in a patient’s body when they have positive interactions with animals. Endorphins give patients a “morphine-like” reaction that may provide pain management and uplifting effects.

What are Therapy Pets?

Pets help distract those in turmoil or distress when they offer unconditional love and affection. They help patients relax and forget about the intimidating diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments. Animals that may be employed in therapy include:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Rabbits
  • Guinea pigs
  • Horses

Therapy pets help patients when they’re brought into hospitals, retirement facilities, hospice centers, nursing homes, and schools. Most pet therapy animals are dogs.

Types of Pet Therapy

There are three main types of pet therapy available to patients with severe illnesses.’

Therapeutic Visitation

The most common type, therapeutic visitation is when patients bring their own personal pets to visit the hospital. Many people with pets miss them when they’re away for too long, this method offers the patient comfort and a sense of feeling more at home.

Animal Assisted

Thoroughly trained animals will be brought in to help lung cancer patients when they visit physical and occupational therapists. Additionally, in this specific therapy, animals are trained to assist with improving motor and limb function.

Facility Therapy

This therapy is meant specifically for Alzheimer’s patients. Specifically, teachers will train animals to monitor and engage with patients, as well as keep them safe.

Who is Eligible for Pet Therapy?

Almost anyone can get pet therapy. Moreover, age, general health, and medical or emotional trauma are nonfactors when a doctor considers recommending this to a patient. Also, even weaker patients who can’t move can benefit from the presence of a friendly animal. Even if it’s just for temporary entertainment or distraction. Those who may not be ideal candidates for pet therapy include patients with allergies and compromised immune systems.

Safety Issues to Consider with Animals

Patient interaction with animals is generally a safe encounter, as most therapy pets are trained or know the person well. Regardless, animals can be unpredictable, and untrained pets will always pose some level of risk for causing damage to their surroundings or others. Ideal therapy animals are mild-mannered, calm, friendly, and interactive.

Now What?

Not every lung cancer patient will benefit from pet-assisted therapies. People who aren’t open to treatment or don’t really like animals may not see much improvement. In fact, some may actually see their stress levels increase. Not to mention, how every patient is different. While some animal lovers may see considerable mental health improvements with AAT, others may not for whatever reason. Lastly, talk to your primary physician about pet-assisted therapies. They can provide you with related resources and information.