Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Human Cancer & Pets

Most households in the United States have at least one (1) pet. Why is this so or for the matter have pets? There are many reasons:
Pets can decrease your:
Blood pressure
Cholesterol levels
Triglyceride levels
Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:
Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
Opportunities for socialization

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is defined as ‘The introduction of an animal into the immediate surroundings of an individual, or a group, as a medium of interaction with a therapeutic purpose’.

Pets have been used a part of therapy as early as 1972 at the Quaker Society of Friends York Retreat in England and even Florence Nightingale appreciated the benefit of small pets’ comfort in the treatment of individuals with illness. In 1919, the US military promoted the use of dogs as a therapeutic intervention with psychiatric patients at St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. In 1961, Dr Boris Levinson recognition the increase value of human-pet bonding for the treatment of schizophrenia where the human-canine relationship helped ground the patient in reality. Recently, in 1990, Dr William Thomas developed a therapeutic environment called the Eden Alternative, which sought to assimilate the natural world, including animals, into long-term care.

Animal companionship provides love, affection and a sense of being needed and serves as an accessible and boundless source of support and companionship.

Animal-assisted therapy is effective as research suggests that physiological variables change with both pet ownership and during short-term (2-12 minutes) interactions with animals. Psychosocial and emotion benefits such as the facilitation of normal child development, decreases in anxiety, loneliness and fear of procedures and improvements in social interaction, social support, communication, sensory stimulation and happiness have been the focus of studies of brief exposures (10-30 minutes) to AAT.

Patients suffering from cancer often experience a high degree of stress and depression. Hospitals often use dogs and cats to help patients after surgery or during chemotherapy. Patients may not always have family members or friends nearby to provide hourly companionship and support and may feel more comfortable talking with support animals about their fears when dealing with cancer. Dogs and cats, especially ones that are trained in the service field are unconditionally supportive and loving to patients.

According to American Humane, an online resource, patients benefit from animal-assisted therapy due to mental stimulation and an increase in physiological response. In November 2007 issue of “Anticancer Research”, Dr Massimo Orlandi and associates found that animal-assisted therapy was significantly beneficial in reducing depression in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

AAT has also shown beneficial for a cancer patient’s physical health outcomes. Having service animals nearby can reduce a patient’s anxiety and stress and this, in turn, allows the body to focus more energy on physical recovery.

In January 2007 issue of “Complementary Health Practice Review” Michele Morrison, MS, RN, of William Paterson University of New Jersey, stated that animal-assisted interventions showed, a significant improvement in blood pressure, heart rate and salivary immunoglobulin-A levels, which is a market for immune system health.

Service animals in the room may also provide support and encouragement during physical therapy sessions for patients recovering from various cancer treatments. Patients may feel more comfortable trying to walk again or using new prosthetics when in the presence of therapy animals.

The list is endless on what animals can help cancer patients from emotional support, healing effects and reduced pain.

For cancer survivors, animal-assisted therapy (AAT) using either service animals or emotional (companion) support animals (ESA) may provide valuable support.

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