Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), is a complementary treatment in which a professional guides people and pets through interactions with each other. These interactions can last anywhere from a few minutes or up to 15 minutes at a time.

This form of therapy is growing in popularity to help people who have a variety of health needs. This includes those who have lung cancer, such as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

You’ll want to consider the benefits and feasibility compared to any constraints to your health and time before choosing pet therapy for NSCLC. AAT isn’t a cure for cancer. But interacting with animals has shown to improve the quality of life in people dealing with chronic illnesses. If you’re a caregiver, consider asking your loved one’s doctor for more information at their next appointment.

How does pet therapy work?

Pet therapy is designed to help people feel better physically and emotionally. Interacting with a pet can instantly put you in a better mood. AAT targets your mental health, and regular sessions with a pet therapist can improve anxiety and depression.

Pet therapy is used in a variety of settings. If you’re in a hospital, an animal handler may bring a therapy animal to your room for some cuddle time and short activities. Some oncologists now have therapy animals on hand for short interactions with their patients. A private therapy group may have their own therapy animals on hand for AAT, or even as an extra component to other types of therapy.

What you do during a pet therapy session depends on the length of the session, your condition, and the type of animal you’re interacting with. The types of activities can also vary based on your abilities. You might get to cuddle and pet the animal. Some therapists use the animals to help with exercises. You might engage in activities such as throwing a ball to a therapy dog.

Let the AAT professional know if you’re experiencing any excessive coughing or wheezing that might inhibit physical activities. If you’re a caregiver, you may also want to attend the pet therapy sessions in case your loved one needs help.

Benefits of pet therapy

For lung cancer, pet therapy can potentially help with:

  • balance and coordination
  • fatigue
  • heart health
  • high blood pressure
  • pain reduction

All these potential benefits are related to the mental health improvements that AAT can bring to your life. Pet therapy may also improve your mental well-being by reducing anxiety and depression. As well, it can ease stress levels and make you feel happy. Animals can provide companionship, which is essential to those with lung cancer who might feel alone at times. The mental and physical benefits of pet therapy go hand in hand.

Supporting research

Historically, pet therapy has been used as a form of emotional support for people with chronic illnesses. It’s also popular in children’s hospitals as a way to cheer up kids. Growing research into the broad spectrum of health benefits associated with AAT has placed it as a complementary form of medicine for many diseases, including cancer and heart failure.

Types of animals used

When you think of pet therapy, dogs might be the first animals that come to mind. But many facilities also use cats. Though not as common, horses, cows, and even dolphins may also be used.

Licensed animal therapists only use pets that are screened and trained to specifically provide pet therapy. While interacting with an untrained pet can cheer you up, the benefits may not be as wide-ranging.

It’s also important to note that pet therapy isn’t the same thing as obtaining a service animal. AAT sessions are conducted in clinics, hospitals, and health-assisted homes. This means that you’d share the pet with others throughout various therapy sessions. The pet doesn’t live with you like a service animal would.

Talking to your doctor about pet therapy

If pet therapy is something you or a loved one might be interested in, talk to your doctor. They will be able to refer you to a reputable pet therapy coordinator. Your doctor will also need to approve you as a candidate for AAT based on your current health.

Some of the possible risks of pet therapy include:

  • allergies (Consider getting tested for allergies to pet dander first.)
  • breathing difficulties from pet allergies, such as allergic asthma
  • sanitation concerns
  • attachment to the animal

Because there’s no single cure for cancer, therapies are crucial to your outlook and quality of life. Pet therapy can help make life with NSCLC a little bit easier and more enjoyable.