Why Dogs Can Help People with Cancer

If you’re a dog lover, you know first-hand just how much joy our canine friends can bring into our lives. They’re always the ones who are happiest to see us when we return home–whether we’ve been gone for months, days, or even just 15 minutes. They sense our emotions, follow us around the house, and have never-ending curiosity and a love for play. Each has his or her own special personality, and they make us laugh more than most human beings can.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you also know anecdotally that spending time with your cuddly four-legged canine companion provides important health-related benefits. Further, research continues to confirm that these health benefits are real. The following shows the many different ways that our beloved dogs prove time and time again that they’re a cancer survivor’s best friend:

  • Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can cause a seemingly unlimited amount of stress. Fortunately, our canine friends always seem to have just what it takes to improve our moods and lessen or even relieve our stress. Simply petting your dog can release endorphins that can make you feel calmer and temporarily distract you from any feeling of illness or pain that you’re experiencing.

  • We know that many patients with cancer may feel isolated and become depressed. This writer knows firsthand that learning you have cancer can cause a striking sense of loneliness no matter how supportive your family members and others are around you. But spending time with your pup can significantly lower feelings of loneliness. Further, research has shown that cancer patients who are able to spend time with a therapy dog before their chemotherapy treatment reported improved social and emotional well-being despite being in physical decline during their treatments.
  • In fact, many cancer patients find that their dogs provide a special type of companionship that they may not receive from even their closest family member or friend. So many of us are afraid of burdening or worrying our loved ones or even driving them away if we’re completely open about our fears and darkest thoughts. Yet you don’t have to worry about that with your pup. You know that you can say anything to your dog, and he or she will always be happy to listen and comfort you. I wept on my dog’s shoulders more than once when going through treatment. And she gently licked my tears away more times than I can say.
  • Research has shown that being a dog owner can also improve your overall physical well-being, which in turn can enhance your recovery from cancer and its treatment. Both the cancer itself and its treatments can result in debilitating fatigue. But research shows that people with cancer who engage in exercise regularly experience 40% to 50% less fatigue when compared with other cancer patients. Regularly walking your dog multiple times every day should provide just the right amount of moderate exercise to help aid in your recovery.
  • If your cancer treatment is causing mobility difficulties, a specially trained service dog can help you maintain your independence and provide invaluable help during your recovery. Your service dog can be trained to open and close doors for you, assist you while walking, bring your phone to you, and bark if there is an emergency.

Have you been diagnosed with cancer and found that your canine companion provided you with special comfort during your journey? If so, please share your story here by leaving a comment.