It’s amazing how easily pets can slide right into our family dynamic. Whether you have a dog named Bailey or a cat named Casserole, you reach a point where you realize you can’t imagine life without them.
Although animals can’t talk to us, they almost possess a sixth sense when it comes to honing in on our emotional state. Many times, a pet will provide you with comfort in their own unique way if they notice you are upset. This is why dogs, cats, or any beloved pet you may have can be vital to keeping you calm and help the healing process after your cancer diagnosis. Need more convincing? Here’s a list of the different ways your pet (and especially your dog) can help after your cancer diagnosis and during treatment.
What Makes Your Pet an Awesome Cancer Companion
1. Pet Cuddles are the Best Cuddles
Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, some days will be better than others. During your low days, having your furry (or not so furry) friend there to snuggle or pet is one of the best feelings in the world. In fact, studies show cuddling with your pet can actually release endorphins, which is a group of hormones within our brain and nervous system that work to relieve stress and provide us with a boost of happiness.
2. Share Your Feelings
Some of us find it extremely difficult to share our feelings with anyone, friends and family included. For many, this stems from a fear of overwhelming others and not knowing what kind of reaction you’ll receive. Here is where your pet comes in. Pets are actually some of the most famously fabulous listeners. After all, they can’t give us responses we don’t want to hear (seriously, sometimes listening is all anyone requires). This is a great way to let out your frustrations, worries, and whatever else is on your mind. Plus their secret-keeping game is totally on point.
3. Pets Help When They Don’t Even Know It
Cancer is not part-time and you can’t just turn your brain off to it. Once you know it’s there, it’s completely normal for your mind to be in a constant state of chaos with worries, what-ifs, decision making, and so on. Sometimes all we need is something else to focus our attention on. The simple acts of feeding, bathing, brushing, or petting your dog or cat can help you focus your thoughts elsewhere and give you some peace of mind.
4. Pets Provide Unconditional Love
Is there any better feeling than being away all day and coming home to the happiest creature in the world jumping for joy to see your face? Pets can lift our spirits in so many ways; a prime example of this is seeing how excited they are to see us at the end of a long day. Or how happy they are to cuddle up with us or bring us their toys for a quick game. Their love for us is unconditional. After an especially grueling day or on more difficult days following treatment, seeing that adorable, goofy face can be a real mood booster.
5. Dog Walking = Exercise for You Both
Just like us, our pets require exercise to stay healthy and active. What better way to check off “exercise” on both your to-do lists than by going for a walk? Those undergoing cancer treatment will be the first to tell you cancer is both physically and mentally exhausting. Studies have shown that cancer patients who add some form of regular exercise to their daily regimen have experienced 40-50% less fatigue. By going on short daily walks with your dog, you’ll be meeting your exercise goal and keeping your furry friend super happy. In other words, a total win-win situation!
Can Your Pet Make You Sick During Cancer Treatment?
While the possibility of humans catching an animal-specific illness are low, some forms of bacteria can be transmitted to us by our pets. This is especially dangerous during cancer treatment as your immune system is weakened. The key to keeping yourself well with a pet around is to take precautions in order to reduce the risk of germs in your environment.
Knowing which type of animals pose the most risk is the best place to start. Interestingly enough, puppies and kittens can be much more hazardous to cancer patients in comparison to older pets. Younger pets are more likely to play a little bit rougher with scratching and biting, plus they are more prone to having “accidents” than older, trained pets. It’s also best to keep pets indoors (aside from walks) if possible - this will prevent pets from coming into contact with birds, mice, or any other animals or sources that could carry illness.
Although both cats and dogs can transmit bacteria, cats definitely pose more of a risk as they are more prone to scratching and their litter box must be changed daily. The best tactic for the litter box is to have another person handle daily cleanings for you or, if you live alone, be sure to wear latex gloves and a mask over your nose and mouth for extra protection. If you have a cat, it is also important to keep your kitty inside the house (yes, even if they're meowing at the door), because cats that go outside are much more likely to carry potentially harmful bacteria.
Your pet is part of your family and can play a crucial role during your cancer diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment as well. Your pet will use their own special gifts, quirks, and unique personality to provide you with unconditional love and help ease your stress and pain during a difficult time in your life. If you were recently diagnosed with cancer but do not have a pet, there are several therapy dog foundations you can reach out to get your dose of canine support. And, if you want to look extra cute, you can get matching bandanas here for you and your pet! Our extra large bandanas are 100% cotton and super comfortable on bald heads (and on furry necks!).
What kind of pet do you have? Let us know in the comments below!