I recently visited an oncologist in South Louisiana to review protocols for chemotherapy pathways. While I was there, I was seriously moved by the scene before me.
Patients receiving chemotherapy in La-Z-Boy chairs in a big circle were engaged in conversation with each other or simply sitting quietly with a therapy dog on their chair. One patient was reaching out just petting the dog, eyes closed with a smile on his face. The room was peaceful and calm and I felt like I was inside someone's living room.
Of course, my first thought was, "Oh my gosh, are those dogs allowed in here?" The search began as I looked for reasons why they should not be there. What I did find was talk on how it may be easier for patients to connect with and unburden themselves with their pets rather than with friends or family. There is also evidence that stress and heart rates decreased significantly for people who had a dog in the room while they were receiving chemotherapy. Depression has been shown to decrease by 33 percent with patients who have a pet or therapy dog involved in their care.
Therapy dog visits are becoming more widely recognized and incorporated into patients' care plans. For example, the National Home and Hospice Care Survey conducted in the US in 2007 reported that 42 percent of hospice providers offered complementary therapies, and that pet therapy ranked fourth. One prospective study looking at the impact of including a therapy dog during chemotherapy showed the acceptance of opting to have the dog present was high (83 out of 104 patients chose to have treatment with a dog in the room). Therapy dog visits were associated with improved mood and fewer somatic symptoms.
I just purchased a book called Therapy Dogs in Cancer Care: A Valuable Complementary Treatment by Dawn A. Marcus, MD, which is filled with impressive research demonstrating the therapeutic use of dogs in cancer care. It may help in the decision-making process for allowing dogs in the infusion room.
I am lucky to be sitting here in my home office with my dogs at my feet, and I know for sure that I would be one of those patients flocking to the office that I visited in Louisiana just to get my chemotherapy with a dog on my lap. I am interested to know if any of you allow dogs in the infusion room. Do you have plans in the future to introduce pet therapy?
It turns out that the dogs in the office I visited belong to the doctors. During a conference I had with the physicians, all four dogs came into the conference room with us and sat at our feet. The meeting went extremely well.
- Kroenke K, Theobald D, Wu J, et al. The association of depression and pain with health-related quality of life, disability, and health care use in cancer patients. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010;40:327-41.
- Orlandi M, Trangeled K, Mambrini A, et al. Pet therapy effects on oncological day hospital patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Anticancer Res. 2007;27:4301-4.