Cancer Care How Pet Therapy Can Make Your Hospital Visit a Little Easier By UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, March 1, 2018 Whether you find yourself making an unexpected visit to the emergency room or prepping for a planned hospital stay, there are bound to be some comforts of home you have to leave behind. Luckily for animal lovers, UPMC offers animal therapy, which allows you to interact with a four-legged friend at the hospital. Having a pet around can help you feel less stressed and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). UPMC has incorporated pet therapy into areas of the hospital, including at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Playing with a pooch is certainly fun, but the benefits of animal therapy may also play a part in helping you feel better. For more information on UPMC’s pet therapy program or to find out how to volunteer for the program, contact UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy? Pet therapy allows for specially trained and certified animals to visit you during your hospital stay. The animals participating in pet therapy are a soothing presence and provide a sense of companionship. Along with feeling less alone during your hospital visit, pet therapy can help you cope with stress and even make you smile. Pet therapy animals are different from service or emotional support animals. The animals participating in pet therapy go through a training and certification course before interacting with people in the hospital, says Animal Friends, an animal resource center based outside of Pittsburgh. The pet has a handler, who teaches the animal how to interact with you and oversees any visits. Pet therapy also only occurs in short sessions (usually just a couple of hours), unlike service animals, which are usually assigned to one person for a longer time. Benefits of Animal Therapy The benefits of being a pet owner are numerous. Pet owners enjoy a lowered risk of heart disease and lower stress levels. Those benefits extend into the hospital too, with animal-assisted therapy. Research published in the American Academy of Pain Medicine has indicated that people in the hospital who spent time walking with dogs or had a brief visit with a pet felt calmer and more comforted. According to an article published by the Public Library of Science, animal-assisted therapy helped both with pain management and with recovery after anesthesia for children who underwent medical procedures. The emotional connection you create with your pets facilitates a positive emotional response — it’s hard not to smile when you see your favorite animal! Spend time with a therapy animal during your next hospital visit to ease your stress and provide comfort. For more information on UPMC’s pet therapy program or to find out how to volunteer for the program, contact UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.