Support Animals for Cancer Patients

Woman and Dog

Animals such as dogs, cats, and other mammals have been proven to be very beneficial to cancer patients while they are undergoing treatment. Support animals can have physical, mental, and emotional benefits for lung cancer patients. Types of support animals include emotional support animals and service animals.

Benefits of Emotional Support Animals for Cancer Patients

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are meant to provide individuals with care and companionship for patients undergoing cancer treatment. The most common emotional support animals are dogs or cats.

Emotional support animals can:

  • Create an emotional connection during a difficult time
  • Distract a patient when they are in pain
  • Ease feelings of anxiety
  • Eliminate feelings of isolation
  • Keep patients occupied and eliminate boredom
  • Relieve symptoms of depression
  • Socialize patients who are unable to leave the house

The main goal of emotional support animals is to comfort patients and feel inspired to continue with cancer treatment even when they are discouraged or weak.

A 2015 study from Beth Israel Medical Center tested the efficacy of animal-assisted visits in improving the quality of life for head and neck cancer patients undergoing a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. The study found that there were great emotional benefits to having an animal visit during treatment.

“Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment.”

— Dr. Stewart B. Fleishman, principal investigator of the study

Emotional support animals can also benefit a cancer patient’s physical health. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that the use of therapy dogs can help to decrease the need for pain medications in patients that suffer from chronic pain.

Service Animals for Cancer Patients

There are several differences between emotional support animals and service animals. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical or mental disability.

The ADA only allows dogs to be certified as service animals. Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under the ADA.

Service dogs can be beneficial to cancer patients that may require more help getting around and performing daily tasks, Especially if the patient does not have enough support from caregivers.

They can also help with small tasks such as:

  • Pressing buttons
  • Pulling wheelchairs
  • Retrieving dropped items

Dogs are also able to help cancer patients with keeping up with their treatment regimen by reminding them to take their medication or go to routine doctor visits.

How to Own a Support Animal

In order to own an emotional support animal:

According to Mental Health America, you must receive a prescription from a medical doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist showing you require the need for an emotional support animal. There is no special training required for a pet to be a certified emotional support animal.

Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs are allowed to have their pet in their home even if the building has a policy banning pets and also bans any additional fees. ESAs may also be able to fly on planes with you for free. However, ESAs are not allowed in public places that do not allow pets.

In order to own a service dog:

You must receive written documentation from a healthcare provider that you require assistance from a service dog. Your dog must be trained to specifically relate and assist with your condition.

Service animals require in-depth training from professionals to become certified. Most service dogs are already trained by someone else to be service dogs for cancer patients. These rules can vary based on the state you live in, so it is important to talk to your doctor.

If you do not want to commit to owning an animal yourself, many cancer centers have therapy dog programs where trained dogs come visit patients getting treatment for 15-20 minutes to boost their mood.

Other Types of Support Animals for Cancer Patients

Although dogs are the most common support animal and the only animal recognized by the ADA as a service animal, there are other options.

Some other emotional support animals include:

  • Cats
  • Ferrets
  • Miniature horses
  • Monkeys
  • Parrots
  • Pigs

Contact your lung cancer specialist to learn more about adopting an emotional support or service animal, or the availability of therapy dogs at a cancer center near you.

 

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7 references
  1. Fleishman, S. B., Homel, P., Chen, M. R., Rosenwald, V., Abolencia, V., Gerber, J., & Nadesan, S. (2015, January). Beneficial effects of animal-assisted visits on quality of life during multimodal radiation-chemotherapy regimens. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25839062/
  2. Geier, E., & Geier, E. (2020, April 24). 5 ways service dogs help people with cancer. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://www.rover.com/blog/cancer-service-dogs/
  3. How do i get an emotional support animal? (2021, January 22). Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://screening.mhanational.org/content/how-do-i-get-emotional-support-animal/
  4. Marcus, D., Bernstein, C., Constantin, J., Kunkel, F., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. (2012, January 10). Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/13/1/45/1854248
  5. Pets, support, and service animals: How animals can help people with cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/coping/support-service-animals.html
  6. Service animals and emotional Support Animals. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://adata.org/guide/service-animals-and-emotional-support-animals
  7. The different types of service animals & how they can help. (2021, April 20). Retrieved July 15, 2021, from https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/types-of-service-animals/