How Children with Cancer May Benefit from Pet Therapy

The physical and emotional effects of cancer can make take a toll on any child of any age living with some form of this disease. With pet therapy, however, kids can be kids as they interact with friendly, cuddly pets. Even if parents aren't in a position to welcome a pet into the family home, there are still many ways children can benefit from time spent with cuddly, lovable animals in a safe, comfortable setting.

What Kind of Pets Can Be Used?

Many people associate pet therapy with dogs and cats, but there are many types of pets that could have therapeutic benefits for children with cancer. There are programs that use birds, horses and other farm animals, and even rabbits, hamsters, and gerbils! Even trained dolphins are used in some of the more unique pet therapy programs. With canine therapy, golden retrievers are the most common dog breed used, likely because of their naturally calm temperament – although some other well-trained breeds can be just as effective.

How Does Pet Therapy Work?

Sometimes called animal-assisted therapy (AAT), pet therapy can be conducted in several different ways. Some programs specifically for children may take place in an enclosed indoor or outdoor space so kids can safely interact with animals while also receiving proper supervision. "Therapy" itself usually involves just letting children interact with pets. Some programs also make appropriate toys and treats available that the kids can use during their time with pets.

What Are Possible Benefits for Children with Cancer?

One study specific to cancer patients found that individuals undergoing radiation therapy rated their health better when they also had visits with dogs. Pet therapy also appears to naturally reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol while increasing beneficial hormones like endorphins – the body's natural "feel good" hormones.

Another study found that pet therapy combined with chemotherapy minimized depression among patients and improved blood flow (circulation). Children with cancer may also enjoy benefits from pet therapy that include:

  • A decreased perception of pain
  • Not as much anxiety and other sources of psychological distress
  • Reduced fatigue
  • A better overall mood

Many places that offer this type of therapy take steps to match kids with pets so they're not intimidated by animal's size or behavior. Even if your child has pet allergies, they should still be able to be matched with therapeutic pets that won't trigger reactions. Just remember to supervise your kids, especially if they are younger, to make sure they're not doing anything to agitate animals they are playing with.

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