Pet therapy may help cancer patients persevere through challenging treatments, according to new findings published Tuesday in Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology.
The results show a significant improvement in quality of life for more than 40 patients who took part in a trial at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, where they interacted with therapy dogs following chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“They really did look forward to seeing the dogs. It lightened the experience for them,” Stewart B. Fleishman, founding director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel and principal investigator for the study, said. “There isn’t much joy in these months, and we were able to bring some relief in this terrible time.”
The trial, supported by The Good Dog Foundation, Zoetis, and Pfizer Foundation, found that visits from a certified therapy dog significantly increased the emotional well-being of patients over several weeks.
Gabriel A. Sara, medical director at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, said the study provides strong evidence that pet therapy can be used as an effective tool for patients.
Even as patients’ physical and functional well-being declined, the study said their well-being improved emotionally and socially.
“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,” said J. Michael McFarland, Zoetis group director of Companion Animal Veterinary Operations.
“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.”
Executive Director and Founder of The Good Dog Foundation Rachel McPherson said the results scientifically back what she has seen for 16 years at the foundation, that therapy dogs can help better the experience of cancer patients as they undergo treatment.
The study assessed the impact of certified therapy animal-assisted visits on quality of life during treatment for head, neck and gastrointestinal cancers.
Forty-two adult patients were enrolled and 37 patients completed the six-week study, receiving daily 15-to-20-minute animal-assisted visits.
The patients chosen for the study had good prognoses but were preparing to go through chemotherapy and radiation that would make them very sick.
“These patients were very sick. By week four they’ve lost a lot of weight, are dealing with inflammation in their throat, and have lost a lot of sleep,” Fleishman said. “This pet therapy made people feel better, even as they were getting sicker.”
The patients had aggressive cancers in the head and neck and chose rigorous combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy in advance of a smaller than otherwise planned surgery.
The dogs were cleaned prior to meeting with the patients, who interacted with the dogs prior to treatment either in waiting rooms or hospital rooms depending on the patient.
Patients were assessed at the beginning, middle, and end of treatment and results showed that even if physical well-being in patients declined, emotional well-being increased when exposed to animal assisted visits.
Fleishman said the key was using the same quality of life scale used to measure the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation to measure the effects of the study.
Fleishman said patients told him they would have stopped treatments before completion had it not been for the therapy dogs.
“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,” Fleishman said. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment.”
Source: Michael Izzo, Daily Record // Photo: Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation, Kathy Landman)
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