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Nine things to consider before starting animal therapy

When you or someone you love has cancer, finding ways to relax is important. Animal therapy is a supportive treatment approach that has been shown to help reduce stress and boost spirits, as well as provide a welcome distraction from all of the emotions you and your loved ones may be feeling.

However, animal therapy involves more than heading to the pet store and picking out a new furry friend. Here are nine things to consider before incorporating pets into your treatment regimen.

  • Check with your doctor first: Before beginning any new type of therapy or treatment, you should always check with your primary oncologist first. While visiting with a dog may seem harmless, it is important to make sure that you are healthy enough to interact with animals.
  • Work with trained professionals: Working with an animal that has been trained and credentialed in animal therapy with its handler can help you get the most out of your encounters. Also, working with a credentialed therapy animal can ensure safety and alleviate any health concerns. These animals are trained to know how to react to any situation that may arise, which means all you have to do is relax and enjoy the visit.
  • It’s a quick and easy way to reduce stress: Caregivers and cancer patients have busy lives to tend to, before, during and after treatment. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare in between appointments and keeping up with everything else that may be going on, animal therapy can provide a quick pick-me-up in a short amount of time.
  • Animals are great listeners: Talking about your feelings during cancer treatment is a great way to relieve stress and release some of the emotions that may be building up. You can talk to your loved ones or even a therapist, but sometimes animals can be the best listeners of all. They are a captive audience and they never judge. They can interpret your emotions, and know the right time to provide a friendly kiss.
  • You have allergies: Unfortunately, if you have an animal allergy, it might be more difficult to participate in animal therapy. However, some dog breeds such as shih tzus and poodles have hair rather than fur, which lessens the likelihood of being affected by allergies.
  • Fear of dogs: Therapy animals come in all shapes and sizes. You can choose to work with a smaller dog, or you can opt to visit with a licensed cat, bunny or even a hamster. There is also a reason why many doctor’s offices have a large aquarium in the waiting room, as watching fish swim can be calming and soothing. Remember, no matter how small or large, all therapy animals are trained to remain calm and friendly in any situation.
  • Owning a pet is a big decision: Owning a pet comes with a lot of responsibilities you may not want to worry about during this time. If you already have a pet, then you know exactly what to expect, but adding a new pet into the mix could be overwhelming. Choosing to work with a therapy animal means that you can enjoy the fun parts – like playing, petting and cuddles – while avoiding some of the more demanding aspects of pet ownership.
  • Are there any risks?: The biggest concerns revolving around animal therapy in hospitals is safety and sanitation. Therefore, hospitals have strict rules to make sure the animals are vaccinated and disease-free. If your doctor confirms that you are healthy enough to interact with animals, then there is little risk involved in participating in animal therapy.
  • Animal therapy isn’t for everyone: In the same way that people have different reactions to medical treatments, this can be true of integrative oncology services as well. While animal therapy can certainly be effective for people who don’t necessarily love animals, there is no reason to move forward if you aren’t feeling the positive benefits.
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