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The Power of the Human Animal Bond During Cancer Treatments

Merle supported me through many stages of my life, but most of all during my cancer treatments. I experienced love at first sight when I laid eyes on this black and white corgi mix at the Oakland SPCA. His right iris sparkled an appealing, mischievous icy blue while his left brown eye expressed the warmth and deep trust that our relationship would come to know. This bond was incredibly impactful on my wellbeing during my cancer journey.

During my chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I felt wiped out much of the time. Which was not like me, nor Merle. He was my running partner and as a newly graduated veterinarian in an intense internship training program, I was always on the go. However, low red blood cell counts, generalized weakness, and activity-stunting fatigue turned me into a binge-watching, dog-snuggling, couch-dweller. There were times I felt guilty not giving him the walks he so loved and having to ship him off to my family when I was hospitalized. I don’t know what I would have done without the companionship and comfort of my dog. And I know I’m not alone.

In the U.S. approximately 70% of homes include at least one pet and the majority consider their pets to be family members. There is plenty of science to support the positive health effects of sharing your home with a furry companion. Pets have been linked to reductions in cortisol (the stress hormone), and increases in oxytocin (the love hormone) in addition to many other cardiovascular, and mental health benefits.

The power of the human-animal bond goes even deeper when facing a challenge like cancer. And while pets provide unparalleled psychosocial and health benefits, there can also be associated caregiver’s guilt when a patient is unable to adequately care for their pet during treatment and recovery. 

A recent study published in BMC Women's Health [1] explored this very topic. Researchers found that breast cancer patients who owned pets reported feeling supported by the companionship of their pets in multiple ways. However, there was also associated stress regarding their ability to appropriately care for their pets. Many common petcare activities such as dog-walking, changing the litter box, carrying dog food, and even playing can be challenging during treatment and recovery. Medical bills may create financial pressures when paying for routine pet care and veterinary services. Thankfully there are organizations who can help! 

Important Resources:

  • CancerCare has a Pet Assistance and Wellness Program (PAW). They have resources to help offset the expenses of pet care, lists of questions to ask both your medical team and your veterinary provider, and other handy educational information on living well with your pet during cancer.
  • Pet Peace of Mind works with hospitals and hospice organizations to help people with serious illness stay with their pets or find temporary or permanent homes. They also have a document to help you plan for a pet’s placement should that become necessary.
  • Furlanthropy offers a trusted, charity owned option for raising money to pay for veterinary services for your pet. 

The human animal bond is the source of so much comfort and joy in our lives, especially during times of illness or stress. Even if you are going through a cancer diagnosis, you can find support in caring for your pet so that you can continue to experience the unconditional love and companionship they bring. 


Researchers in the school of Social Work and the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State University are currently seeking adults who have been diagnosed with cancer and are the current primary owner of at least one dog or cat, and have owned the animal(s) for at least 6 months.

Who can participate? 

  • Men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer (can be in treatment, recovery, or a survivor)
  • Current primary owner of at least one dog or cat (or have owned the dog or cat at least 6 months prior to your cancer diagnosis)
  • Have owned your dog or cat for at least 6 months.

Benefits Include:

  • Opportunity to enter a raffle for a $100 Chewy gift card (odds of winning 1 in 600)

What is involved?

You will be asked to complete an online anonymous survey that takes approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. The survey is about the benefits and challenges you have encountered while providing for the present and future care needs of your companion animal(s).

The Principal Investigators are:

  • Jen Currin-McCulloch, PhD, LMSW of CSU’s Social Work department. She can be reached at
  • Lori Kogan, PhD of CSU’s Clinical Science department. She can be reached at

This research study has been approved by CSU’s Institutional Review Board, Protocol # 3378.

If you would like to join our study, please access the survey HERE


[1] Kogan, L.R., Currin-McCulloch, J. & Cook, L.S. Breast cancer treatment and recovery: pets’ roles as emotional buffers and stressors. BMC Women's Health 23, 540 (2023).