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How can dogs help people with cancer?

Published: 08 Aug 2018

If you have a dog, you’ll know why they are known as “man’s best friend.”  They follow your every move, are always excited to see you, welcome you with excitement when you come in from work (or a 5 min trip to the corner store!), they are loyal and devoted companions who love you unconditionally. 

Now research has confirmed what dog lovers have known all along… spending time with these adorable, furry, four-legged friends is good for your health.

Dogs can smell cancer

Dogs can smell up to 1,000 times more accurately than us humans.  In multiple scientific studies, dogs have been able to detect certain cancers by smelling breath, stools or urine samples.

The British Medical Journal reported that a black Labrador has successfully sniffed out bowel cancer in breath and stool samples, with a very high degree of accuracy – even in the early stages of the disease.   Read more

Whilst Tsunami, a German shepherd, can sniff out the samples with ovarian malignancies from blood-plasma samples from cancer patients, benign growths, healthy controls and distractor smells – with 90% accuracy. Read more about Tsunami

This goes to prove that our dogs really are amazing!

Dogs are good for your heart

Everyone with a dog, or indeed any other kind of pet, will instinctively know that stroking them has a positive effect on the way we feel.  We’ve found a study that goes one stage further and claims that people with pets enjoy significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without.

Read here to find out more

Dogs can significantly improve your mood

There have been many anecdotal stories about how cancer patients who spent time with a therapy dog prior to treatment report improved emotional and social well-being – in some cases even when their health declines.  

Now there is the evidence to prove it; a series of studies funded by Zoetis, a leading international animal health company, have proved that therapy dogs can decrease a patient’s blood pressure and help promote healing in a patient who has undergone surgery or during gruelling chemotherapy. Find out more

Dogs are good stress relievers

Before you reach for the wine – spend a few minutes with your dog. Petting them releases endorphins that relieve stress and improve your mood.

A poll of 1,000 of the UK’s seven million dog owners, conducted for dog food makers Winalot, showed 55 per cent felt more relaxed after time with their dog, 44 per cent were more optimistic and another 44 per cent were less worried about life’s everyday problems like job security and financial troubles.

Dogs are great company

A dog will always be by your side, there for a cuddle when you’re first diagnosed and ready to welcome you on your return from treatment. Even if you have a strong support system, you may not feel you can share everything with them.  Dogs are always eager to listen… and they know how to keep a secret.

Walking a dog is great exercise

Research has shown that cancer patients who undertake moderate exercise regularly suffer 40% to 50% less fatigue than those that don’t.  It increases muscle strength, joint flexibility and general conditioning, all of which may be impaired by surgery and some therapies. It improves cardiovascular function, protects your bones, elevates your mood and is a drug-free alternative to feelings of depression that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.

So taking your dog out for a walk is great for your dog … and great for you.

Here’s some advice from the NCCN about Exercising During Cancer Treatment

Is it safe to be around my dog when going through chemo?

Your immune system is low and you’re susceptible to germs and infections – so you do need to take precautions. But on the whole, for most people the positives out-way the negatives. Not all pets pose the same risks, and not all cancer treatments do either, so check with your care team who will give you specific advice.

A few simple things that are advisable: make sure your pet’s claws are regularly trimmed so they don’t scratch you by accident, avoid rough play, wash your hands with anti-bac after you’ve touched them, get someone else to clear up any pet mess, or if you have to do it yourself wear gloves and wash your hands (and gloves) thoroughly afterwards.

The American Cancer Society offers some good advice on this subject – but if in any doubt check with your doctor.

We want to hear from you

Has your pet helped you cope with your diagnosis and treatment? Share your uplifting stories and pics with other members in the Chemotherapy Support Group on Facebook.