Pet Therapy and Mesothelioma

When veterans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s usually a scary time. Additionally, when patients go to the hospital for treatment, they’re in an unfamiliar and lonely place. Therapy animals have been successful at bringing comfort to veterans with mesothelioma, PTSD, or other debilitating illnesses. Anyone who enjoys spending time with dogs or other animals can attest to the positive and uplifting feelings they encourage. Results are subjective, however, and not everyone will experience the same. Additionally, veterans should make sure they aren’t allergic to animals before enlisting in pet therapy.

A woman admiring her pet bunny.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Treatment

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of how the mind impacts physical health and its resistance to disease. Studies in PNI correlate stress hormones with reduced immune system function.  Data has shown that mental and emotional distresses accompanying a mesothelioma diagnosis can also slow their recovery time and reduce treatment effectiveness.

All complementary treatments that encourage a positive mental outlook are extremely beneficial to a veteran’s recovery process. When patients combine pet therapy with other treatments, it has greater potential to improve patient outlook, which can help the body be stronger. Other benefits patients notice with pet therapy includes a decrease in:

  • Pain levels
  • Depression
  • Respiratory rate
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Tension
  • Fatigue

Besides potential health boosts, pet therapy is simple and low-cost. Veteran’s may also find meaning and purpose when they’re involved with specifically trained animals.

How Pet Therapy Works

Animal-assisted treatment is not meant to replace primary mesothelioma treatments. It’s only meant as a complementary, or palliative option. This means that it can only help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, not cure the disease. When patients combine it with other treatments, there’s greater potential for their overall outlook to improve.

Types of Therapy Animals

While house pets can help veterans with mesothelioma, there are specifically trained animals whose “job” is to visit adults or children and help them cope. Dogs are the most common therapy pet because they’re easy to teach, but other animals include birds, cats, monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, and horses.

Different Animal-Assisted Treatments

There are three categories of animals a veteran can choose from, depending on their needs. These include service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support pets. Here are the provisions for each:

Service
  • Covered by Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which grants access to accompany the veteran in public spaces
  • May fly with the disabled owner in aircraft
  • May live with the veteran despite existing pet policies
  • Trained for one, specific person
Therapy
  • Legally not a service animal and not covered by the ADA
  • Provide comfort and emotional support to rotating people in a multitude of settings (hospital patients, courthouse witnesses, trauma survivors)
Emotional
  • Not covered by the ADA or considered a service animal in a legal sense
  • May fly with the disabled owner in aircraft
  • May live with owner despite existing pet policies

Veterans will receive documentation after they’ve registered their service animal with a credible entity. Veterans or friends interested in training their dogs for service must follow specific guidelines.  The ADA defines a service animal as: “Dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This does not include house pets unless they are trained and certified, although in some establishments they may accompany the patient depending on restrictions and animal behavior.

While all three types fall under the category of “pet therapy” not all have the same access. Additionally, only documented service animals may access all public establishments, aircraft, and residences. While documented emotional support pets may live and fly with the owner, they still have some access restrictions. Lastly, therapy animals come to the patient and leave after a designated time, allowing them even less contact and access to veterans and public spaces. These levels exist based on need. Some patients may only want or need some help, while other disabled veterans may need full-service assistance. Types of service dogs available for veterans with mesothelioma are mobility assistance and mental health service dogs.

Helpful Pet Therapy Resources for Veterans

Several organizations dedicate themselves to helping veterans attain pet therapy and service animals. Here are some helpful resources for veterans:

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers compensation and benefits for veterans interested in pet therapy.

VA Support

If the veteran meets specific qualifications, the VA will cover related costs for service dogs. Veterans can meet with their doctor or health care provider to express interest. Next, their physician will evaluate the veteran’s physical and mental health state and decide if this is the best option.

Veterans interested in VA support may apply for benefits on the VA website. Moreover, if the patient is seeking mental health support through pet therapy, support is offered through the Mental Health Mobility Service Dog Initiative. Those working with mobility and physical support service dogs can get veterinary care and supplies from the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Service. Specifically, both of these initiatives provide comprehensive financial support for canine health and wellness, including medications veterinarians may prescribe. The veteran must meet with a VA health provider and begin the application process. Each case is individually reviewed to ensure the veteran can adequately take care of the animal, and also to evaluate whether pet therapy will positively impact the veteran’s mental or physical health. Every patient has different needs.