Equine and Other Supportive Therapies for Cancer Patients

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology

Equine therapy has become a popular form of a complementary option to traditional cancer treatment. It’s one of the many versions of animal-assisted therapy available for cancer patients all over the world.

Supportive therapies involving animals aren’t focused on cancer itself. They’re not meant to eliminate cancer cells or shrink tumors. Instead, equine, canine and other therapies aim to ease the stress and anxiety that often come along with your cancer treatment. They even have the potential to reduce pain.

If you’re wondering whether you should look into equine or other animal-assisted therapies, read on to learn more about the benefits and what to expect.

What is Equine Therapy for Cancer Patients?

The word “equine” comes from the Latin word “equus,” meaning horse. Equine therapy generally includes sessions out in the open, such as on a farm, where a patient interacts with a horse in the presence of a therapist. No riding experience or knowledge is required to enjoy this type of therapy.

In a therapy session, you’ll receive instructions to lead the horse through a series of obstacles or to a specific place. Usually, you won’t get any details on how to do this. Instead, you’ll need to form a bond with the horse, gain its trust and establish an emotional connection to perform the task. It’s not uncommon for patients to become good friends with their therapy horses.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Cancer Patients

Equine Therapy Can Lower Stress Levels for Cancer Patients

Spending time with therapy dogs lowers blood pressure and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. The same is true for any other type of animal that the patient isn’t scared of or allergic to. Cats, birds, farm animals and even dolphins provide relief from daily stressors and anxieties, if even for just a moment. They represent a much-needed break from thinking about your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Equine Therapy Can Provide Cancer Patients with Some Pain Reduction

Interacting with gentle animals may trigger the release of endorphins in the central nervous system. Endorphins are responsible for easing depression, discomfort and even reducing pain. This type of interaction is especially helpful in patients suffering from chronic pain. Endorphins have a calming effect and may even lead to a stronger will to survive.

Equine or Animal-Assisted Therapy Can Provide A Change of Scenery

While small animals such as dogs and cats can come into hospitals for therapy sessions, patients need to step outside for equine therapy. Being out in nature in nice weather will feel refreshing after days, weeks or even months spent in the sterile confines of a treatment room.

Walking a dog, playing with a cat or leading a horse helps balance, improves coordination and keeps your body moving. When you’re undergoing rigorous cancer treatment, light activity is crucial in preserving your strength.

Animal-Assisted & Equine Therapy Is Not for Everyone

If animals make you uncomfortable, then animal-assisted therapy is not a good option. The same goes if you happen to be allergic to certain animals. Furthermore, immunocompromised patients should consult with their doctors before looking into animal-assisted therapy.

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.