A woof, meow, or the presence of any type of pet in a life of a cancer patient can help improve their emotional well-being.

That isn’t to say that every individual experiencing their cancer journey should look to obtain a therapy pet.

Read below to learn more about the pros and cons about inviting a pet into your life during cancer treatment and how to obtain a service dog and the best dog

Scientific Studies

In January 2015, The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine published a study of a clinical trial in which they concluded:

Therapy dogs may improve the emotional well-being of some cancer patients… “Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments”…

I will mention that they use the phrase “may improve” and, by all accounts, this entire article is also suggesting that it may improve the emotional well-being.

If you’re considering a pet for upcoming treatment or are already in the middle of treatment and considering one, many considerations need to come into play. Mainly:

  • What type of pet are you considering?
  • Are you capable of taking care of a pet?
  • Do you have a support system who could potentially take care of a pet if you couldn’t for an extended amount of time?

For some cancer patients, a fish might be the perfect first pet to look to obtain. They’re easy to care for, depending on the fish an aquatic system and food can be inexpensive, and an aquatic background can be a soothing secondary benefit.

However, if you’ve owned a pet previously or have a support system readily available to help, a dog or cat can be considered.

Pet Therapy Benefits for Cancer Patients

Pet therapy (or animal-assisted therapy) is used around the world for a variety of different scenarios. It’s no surprise that this form of therapy is also used for cancer patient well-being.

The therapeutic effect that pets can have with cancer patients, those with debilitating diseases, the elderly or adolescents is one that is a much more of a simple bond than a complex one.

Pets give attention and comfort. Needlessly.

This can sometimes be a good thing for someone going through cancer treatment. And sometimes a hindrance to quality living.

Over at CancerCenter.com, they note the following benefits for having a therapy pet:

  • Easing their anxiety and elevating their mood
  • Offering company and comfort, thereby lessening feelings of isolation or loneliness
  • Providing a distraction from pain, stress or boredom
  • Relaxing them, especially since petting or snuggling with a soft, friendly animal can release endorphins that have a calming effect
  • Motivating them to get better
  • Increasing socialization and encouraging communication

Dr. Edward Creagan, an Oncologist for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, offers a perspective that benefits not just cancer patients but anyone:

A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.

Indeed, there are quite a lot of benefits to thinking about owning a pet for therapeutic purposes.

Reasons Why a Cancer Patient Should Not Get a Pet

Sometimes, pet ownership can “pile on” more responsibilities during a trying time for a patient going through cancer treatment.

Some pets need lots of attention, activity, and love. Unlike the “rolling” effect that chemotherapy can affect an individual’s energy and health or the general fatigue dampener that radiation can bring, pets need to have a consistent schedule.

If you’re going through cancer treatment that impacts your white blood cell count, having a pet might increase risk of picking up germs that may not get the pet sick but the patient seriously ill. Younger pets, such as kittens or puppies, can increase this risk. Strays or outdoor pets can also increase this risk vs. pets who are kept inside a home.

Pet scratches and bites can also lead to serious infections for patients with compromised immune systems.

The American Cancer Society has a nice write-up about situations that cancer patients should look to avoid with pet care. These activities typically revolve around being extra cautious (or potentially having family or friends help) around feces and bodily fluid contact as well as washing hands after any contact with a pet.


Therapy pets can help cancer patients through treatment but only if all benefits and risks are considered. Starting small – a fish, perhaps – can help patients see if a pet provides the benefits they’re seeking without it being too much of an emotional and physical commitment.

Did you have a pet during treatment? And was it a good choice? I’d love to hear about it and continue the conversation in the comments below!