Therapy dogs lifted the spirits of cancer patients by improving their emotional well -being and quality of life, according to research co-sponsored by veterinary drug manufacturer Zoetis Inc.
The clinical study, published in January in the Journal of Oncology, involved patients receiving combined chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers. A questionnaire called the FACT-G (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy – General) found that the patients’ emotional well- being jumped over the course of animal assisted visits even as they underwent “marked and significant declines in both physical and functional well-being,” according to researchers.
Principal investigator Stewart B. Fleishman, M.D., of New York’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital called the work “the first such definitive study in cancer.” “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved the patients’ quality of life and humanized a high-tech treatment.” Fleishman said. “Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and the volunteer handler.”
“There is mounting evidence in human and veterinary medicine that the emotional bond between people and companion animals can have a positive impact on emotional and physical health,” said J. Michael McFarland, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, the group director of Companion and Animal Veterinary Operations at Zoetis. “These new results help advance our understanding of the value of animal-assisted therapy in cancer treatment and point to the ways oncology and animal health communities can work together in supporting cancer patients achieve the best possible treatment outcomes,” Dr. McFarland said.
Thirty-seven adult patients with a mean age of 57 completed the six-week study, receiving daily 15- to -20 minute animal assisted visits. The researchers noted that animal assisted visits are common in cancer centers “but there is little evidence of their usefulness.” The findings in this study may help put the uncertainty to rest. “Animal assisted visits add a valuable element to the environment of care for patient’s receiving multi-modal cancer treatment,” the authors concluded. “A more widespread presence in cancer treatment centers should be encouraged.”