A recent study by Stewart Fleishman, a physician at Beth Israel Medical Center's Continuum Cancer Center in New York, found that the emotional and social well-being of patients with cancer improved when they interacted with therapy dogs during combined chemotherapy and radiation therapy. During this study, 42 patients receiving treatment for head, neck, and gastrointestinal cancer consented to daily animal visits. A self-assessment tool, known as the FACT-G questionnaire, was administered to gain insight into each patient's baseline emotional, functional, personal, and social well-being.
A dog visit was scheduled for each chemotherapy or radiation therapy session. During the visits, each patient spent time in the waiting room petting, talking, and playing with a dog. A FACT-G questionnaire was administered bi-weekly to the patients for the duration of the study.
During the course of treatment, patients developed adverse effects, such as pain; fatigue; skin lesions; and difficulty swallowing, eating, and speaking. Despite this physical decline, patients reported an increase in emotional and social well-being. In fact, Dr. Fleishman reported that a patient said she would've stopped treatment but continued so she could see the dog.
Why? Because despite the patients' physical decline, the therapy dogs were excited to see them. The dogs displayed unconditional love not noticing the patients' physical decline.
Animals clearly provide human health benefits, even for patients undergoing grueling combination cancer regimens with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. As a result, many more cancer centers are offering animal-assisted visits for their patients.