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Cancer Supportive and Survivorship Care Programs Improving Quality of Life Logo

Animal Assisted Therapy For Cancer Supportive Care
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Alexandra Andrews

In the Nurses' Health Study, socially isolated women had a 66% increased risk of all-cause mortality and a two-fold increased risk of breast cancer-specific mortality.15 Much of this was related to lack of access to care from family and friends. Depression is a major problem. In a study of ovarian cancer patients treated with platinum-based chemotherapy, depression was the strongest prognostic factor for survival.16 Psychosocial and family support is important, as depression does affect the outcome of older patients.17

Social isolation is a major problem for older adults in general and is a risk factor for psychological distress. "Pet ownership, or just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiologic health status."18 Emotional support animals provide social and community therapeutic support for isolation and depression among the elderly and disabled.19,20

Recognizing the importance of supportive animal assisted therapy, The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act permit either a person with disabilities or an elderly/senior to keep a pet for emotional support.21 Effective November 26, 2008, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons With Disabilities.22 Landlords, condominium associations, trailer parks, etc, must make accommodation for the pet and not charge extra fees or deposits. A letter or prescription from a medical professional regarding the need for the companion animal may be required.

Animal assisted therapy preventive healthcare creates opportunities for better lifestyle choices, and social networks. An emotional support animal may relieve depression, anxiety, stress, and improve coping skills. Cancer supportive care pet ownership may be a novel approach to promote better health and quality of life.

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