According to a recent study published in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology, therapy dogs can help improve the emotional state of some cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
The study, developed by Mount Sinai Beth Israel researchers, found that cancer patients who are undergoing intensive multi-modal concomitant radiation therapy together with chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head and neck cancers, benefited from therapy dog’s visits in terms of their emotional well-being and life quality, even during therapy phases where physical decline was more pronounced.
This research was funded by The Good Dog Foundation, a provider of professionally trained therapy dogs, Zoetis, an animal health company and the Pfizer Foundation.
“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer, and it highlights the merits of animal- assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself. It shows the importance of an innovative environmental intervention during cancer treatment,” Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, said in a news release. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment,” he said. “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.”
“Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments,” added Gabriel A. Sara, MD, Medical Director, Infusion Suite at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Researchers evaluated the outcome of certified therapy animal-assisted visits on patient’s life quality as they were undergoing multi-modal treatment for head and neck and gastrointestinal cancers. A total of 37 patients completed the study, receiving 15 to 20 minutes of animal-assisted visits every day throughout 6 weeks.
Most patients received 30 radiation therapy treatments in addition to their chemotherapy sessions, and presented signals of fatigue, fear, weight loss, and many patients had feeding tubes.
The results showed that patients significantly increased their social and emotional well-being.
“There is mounting evidence in human and veterinary medicine that the emotional bond between people and companion animals can have a positive impact of emotional and physical health,” J. Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, Zoetis group director of Companion Animal Veterinary Operations, said in the news release. “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 achieve the best possible treatment outcomes.”
Rachel McPherson, Executive Director and Founder of The Good Dog Foundation added, “We are excited to see the results of this peer-reviewed study, which bears out scientifically what we have seen for more than sixteen years at The Good Dog Foundation, which is that highly trained and fully certified therapy dogs can provide critical healing services to help change cancer patients’ experiences for the better as they receive treatment.”