Amazing Paws: Dogs Support Cancer Warriors

How do dogs support cancer warriors? What the heck does that mean? 

While I’ve never personally heard that diagnosis of “cancer”, I’ve witnessed it with friends and family. In my opinion, cancer patients are cancer warriors for battling the demon of cancer and all its side effects. 

There’s no doubt that a diagnosis of cancer is a challenging journey both physically and emotionally. Every time I hear a friend or family member has cancer, my heart stops for a bit. I can’t even imagine when it’s directed at you. 

But one thing I know for sure is that I always lean on my dog, Henry when I’m sick. He has healing powers! However, it can even be more even impactful when you’re seriously sick with cancer.  So, today let’s dig in and discover how dogs support cancer warriors. 

*Update: March 13, 2024


Currently, I have a friend dealing with breast cancer. For her that meant nearly a year of chemotherapy, followed by radiation, immunotherapy, endless oncology visits, the scare of losing health benefits for missing work, and all the awful side effects. Yet, her dogs have supported her as a cancer warrior in ways her human family and friends never could. 

a woman hugs her corgi as she's learned that dogs support cancer warriors
disclaimer note
Budget tip:

Do you know that just petting your dog can reduce your stress and pain level? That’s extremely valuable, especially if you’re sick or dealing with cancer. Personally, I’d rather pet Henry than pop a pill. Honestly, since if petting Henry means I save on my bills and improve my health, I’m petting him even more. That’s a terrific win-win for you and your budget!
Want an easy way to play with your dog and get the benefits of watching your dog play and making you feel better? This is a fun automatic ball thrower. It could even make a great gift!

1. Dogs provide unconditional love

A great benefit of dogs is that they don’t judge. They won’t treat you as a person with cancer. They just love you as their human. For example, my friend who’s currently dealing with breast cancer always tells her mom, “You can still hug me. I won’t break.”

Meanwhile, her mom is so worried she’ll hurt her or unknowingly give her a “bug” of some sort, thus, she ends up treating her with kid gloves. That’s not what my friend wants from her mom. Thus, her dogs just treat her as their human and not as their human with cancer.

Are you looking for different ways to bond with your dog? In this article, I share free ways to build a great relationship with your dog.

2. Dogs uplift and provide emotional support

Have you ever been sick or sad and your dog just nuzzles or snuggles with you? It’s almost as if they know what you need and have the magic to make you feel better. Well, that’s sort of true. Dogs can most certainly detect your emotions and react to them. Dogs have been shown to help calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and increase oxytocin (the feel-good hormone). All that is great for anyone, and even more so if you’re sick or a cancer patient. 

3. Dogs help with reducing the feeling of loneliness and isolation

Anyone who’s gone through cancer treatments or witnessed anyone go through this journey knows it’s an isolating one. 

Often what a cancer patient goes through is isolating. For example, like my friends have said they just don’t want to talk about it. However, my friends and family have shared their concerns and fears with their dogs.

Another great aspect of dogs is that they allow you to be you. For example, you can snuggle with your dog and tell them anything and they don’t look at you differently. More specifically, dogs won’t judge you differently because your hair falls out or you’re vomiting multiple times during the day. Your dog listens and loves you just for you. Thus, being able to have an outlet to share your emotions with a friend who won’t judge you differently helps.

Another great way to lift your spirits is to relive fun experiences with your dog. In this article, I walk you through how to do a dog journal jar.

4. Dogs help with overall physical well-being

When your energy gets zapped due to sickness, it can be difficult to think of moving more than necessary. Yet your dog encourages you to walk, at least a bit for their outings. This can help with stamina as well. Additionally, studies have shown that dogs help to with cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure. Great asset, isn’t it?

Do you know that even passive smoke can hurt your dog? In this article, I share all the information you need to know.

5. Dogs help with combatting depression

There’s no doubt that cancer can increase depression. However, being near or petting your dog has been known to elevate or greatly reduce this symptom. Yet, another great asset your furry friend can provide. 

Moreover, some studies have revealed that a positive attitude during cancer treatment dramatically increases the quality of life. 

6. Dogs help to reduce stress and anxiety

Amazingly not only does petting your dog help to increase your feel-good hormones (oxycontin), but also it helps to reduce your stress hormone (cortisol). This is great for all dog parents as life in general can create stress and related anxiety. 

However, according to Sanford Medical, reducing stress and anxiety improves the chances of a successful recovery.

Want to learn about different ways to destress with your dog? In this article, I share easy ways to reduce your stress level with your pup.

7. Dogs can help reduce your sense of pain

Petting a dog can have a lot of benefits. Both for you and your. Chief among them especially when you’re sick or even battling cancer, is it helps to release endorphins. What does this mean? Basically, endorphins can help reduce the feeling of pain and make you feel better. That’s pretty amazing! Of course, it may not mean you can lift a car, but you might feel better and that’s worth an extra pet in my world. 

Heck, I know I pet Henry more when I have pain like a migraine or back pain. If nothing else it puts my mind of something other than the pain for a moment.

Petting or playing with animals can reduce stress levels and increase happiness in patients. This is because these actions cause endorphins to release in patients’ brains, helping them relax. As a result, relaxation can contribute to physical health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, decreased pain and increased cardiovascular health. 

~ Heather Schalk, APRN-CNP Certified Nurse Practitioner, Blanchard Valley Health System

8. Dogs give us a sense of being needed

Of course, any furry friend can give you a sense of purpose. You are their support system. However, when someone is sick or has cancer this can be even more important. For example, my friend has often felt unneeded.

Of course, this isn’t true, but life has changed during the cancer journey. Thus, having a purpose when most of your independence has been stripped is vital. Just the act of feeding, giving water, brushing, or even a short walk, lets the person know they are still important, needed and have a purpose (even if it has changed a bit). 

Would you like to know ways to bring your dog to work daily? In this article, I share all the details you need, including what I did with Henry at my work.

How do I access these benefits from my dog?

All you need to do is pet, snuggle, walk or even play with your dog. And what dog parent doesn’t love doing all those with their furry best friend?

If you don't have the energy or strength to play with your dog, you can use something to make it easier. This fun automatic ball launcher might be the trick if your pup loves to chase balls. 

While Henry doesn’t enjoy dog toys he does LOVE to be chased. If this is your dog and you’re not up to chasing your pup, then perhaps you could watch your dog play a game of chase with a friend or family member.

Want to learn more about how to play with your dog when hates dog toys? In this article, I share everything you need to know and what has worked well for Henry.

Do I need to be seriously ill or have cancer to get these benefits from my dog?

No, of course not! In fact, I increase Henry’s pettings whenever I’m sick, have a migraine, or have more pain. He loves it and I get to focus more on him rather than being sick.

Henry rests in the sun
Henry rests in the sun. But he’s always willing to help me when I’m sick or in pain.

Is it really safe to be around my dog during chemotherapy?

According to the American Cancer Society, you should keep your dogs and pets away from trash and bodily waste for 48-72 hours after receiving chemo. This means making sure trash is out of reach and toilet lids are down. 

What if I’m too sick to walk or care for my dog while I battle cancer?

I always encourage people to turn to their family, friends, or dog community. You can even coordinate your dog’s care online through this free site, My Cancer Circle. However, if you are feeling like you don’t want to do that, there are other options. Such as the Pet Assistance & Wellness Program (PAW). They can provide some financial assistance with caring for your furry friend. Additionally, they can provide education and resources for caring for your pets during cancer treatments. 

Want to learn more about a dog community and how it can help you and your dog? In this article, I break it all down for you.

Can my dog become a support animal?

Yes, it is possible. However, an emotional support animal (ESA) or dog is not the same as a service dog. As such, you may still be limited on where your dog can accompany you. Meanwhile, a service dog (which is trained to help a person with a disability) is allowed everywhere you go. 

Most importantly, to get your dog or pet categorized as an ESA, you will need a letter from your mental healthcare professional stating that you need an ESA. Additionally, your dog should be well-behaved in public and around others to truly be considered an ESA dog. 

Lastly, don’t be fooled into “registering” your dog or pet as an ESA. Many sites say they will register your pet in an ESA database, but it’s all fluff. In fact, most are just scamming you for money. There is no national ESA database.

Moreover, it’s not required to “register” your dog to call your pup an ESA furry friend. All you truly need is the letter. 

However, if you do get a letter to have your dog or pet become your ESA, then make a copy of that letter or keep it digital on your phone. You may be asked for it when you enter different locations.

NOTE: According to my blogging buddy of Layla's Woof, you can also take your ESA letter from your medical provider to your local animal control. By registering with your local animal control, you should also receive a tag designating your dog as ESA. This should help you in verifying your dog's ESA status if questioned. 

What other animals can be a support animal?

The animals that can be an ESA or even a service animal are fairly wide-ranging including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and ferrets to name a few. 

What if I need a service dog to help me get around?

If your vision, hearing, or mobility has been compromised to the point you need assistance, you may qualify for a service dog. These dogs are trained to help you with the tasks you can’t do for yourself easily.

Additionally, you may qualify to receive a service dog if you suffer from medical episodes such as seizures or cardiac events.

Moreover, a service dog can be provided free of charge if you are considered low-income. This is a site with a very comprehensive list of resources for obtaining a service dog when you are considered low-income. 

How can I support my loved one with cancer?

Simply ask what they need or want for support. Sometimes it’ll be walking their dog when energy is low. Or even picking up some food when they can’t deal with a grocery run. You may even want to surprise your loved one with food and a dog walk.

Of course, you’ll know you’re cancer warrior best and what they will be open to receiving. For example, my friend currently battling breast cancer, has a difficult time accepting help, unless she’s completely out of energy.

How does my dog impact my finances when I’m sick or battling cancer?

I really do love this part, it always brings everything together. Since dogs can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and feelings of loneliness, consider the following for a moment. Of course, keep in mind that these figures are estimates and assume there is no insurance over a 30-day period. But it is a little eye-opening either way. 

Antidepressants$7 – $730 
Pain medication$640-2000
Sleep aids $36-400
Therapy sessions$120-350 (1 hour session)

Related articles:

Summary of Amazing Paws: Dogs Support Cancer Warriors

There’s no doubt that a diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming and depressing. Heck, even if you’re sick with a cold, allergies, a migraine, or even back pain it can be overwhelming. But you can look for simple ways to help your friend, family member or yourself. One thing I’ve learned is a great support is your dog.

I’ve had many friends and family who’ve turned to their dogs for support. They’ve found strength by allowing their dogs to reduce stress, depression, pain, and giving them a purpose when their world has been turned upside down.

I know I’ve turned to Henry many times to help me feel better, if even for a moment, during a migraine or flu.

Specifically for my friends and family, I’ve been relieved to know that they were getting support from their dogs during their cancer journey or illness.

So, paws up to all my cancer warriors! You all rock and here’s to a hopeful end of cancer and all serious illnesses in the near future. 

Oh yes, Henry is sending you paws up as well!

a beautiful rests with her dog mom after she receive chemo treats as a cancer warrior

Have you experienced the benefits of a dog’s support while you were a cancer warrior or just sick for a bit? Did you know that your dog was helping your pocketbook as well? 


10 thoughts on “Amazing Paws: Dogs Support Cancer Warriors”

  1. Animals and our pets give so much to us. I swear we don’t deserve them. They are quite a BLESSING, hands down. You pointed out several wonderful reasons dogs (and animals in general) help support us, especially when battling a severe illness. I’d like to think they can be instrumental in keeping the mental state upbeat and positive to help with the battle and healing. The big “C” aside, I’ve heard of several instances where a pet’s extra attention forwarned of health issues to help save people’s lives. Thanks for sharing this inspiring post.

    • Yes, I always say I strive to be the person Henry deserves. I think I still have a ways to go, but then again, our furry friends are very special.

      You’re right, there are cases where a furry friend has alerted his/her human of a serious illness. They are unique in what they bring to our lives. And they can be THE reason for staying positive and having a more success outcome, no matter the illness.

      Thank you for your continued support. I truly appreciate it!

  2. Fantastic post as always. Layla is an ESA dog and keeps me going in a million ways daily. If you have a letter from your doctor you can register your dog at Animal Control and they give you a tag for your dog so you do not have to carry the letter with you. There is also an amazing organization in San Francisco called PAWS (Pets are wonderful support) that helps you with your dog when you are ill plus they have a food pantry for dogs. Without Layla I would be lost

    • Great information, Ruth! I’ll make an update to include the Animal Control info as well as PAWS. It’s so wonderful to know that there are steps you can take to make life easier with your furry friend, even if you are seriously ill.

      I completely understand being lost without Layla. Heck, I leave Henry home for 30 minutes while I run an errand, and I feel like I’m missing my right arm. Although, the coming home part is always fun. He loves to bounce around as if I’ve been gone for months. He generally won’t stop bouncing until I pick him up and give him hugs.

      I’m so glad you and Layla have each other. Happy Birthday to sweet Layla! And thank you for your continued support and encouragement. I greatly appreciate it!

  3. You dog is your rock and support. They ift your spirits and keep you going when life takes a turn for the absolute worst which is what cancer is. This is such a great post – well done,

    • Awe, thank you! Yes, keeping a positive attitude is critical no matter your health issue. Dogs, and furry friend, are great at helping with this most critical attribute of a wellness plan.

      Thank you for your continue support and encouragement! I really appreciate it!

  4. Excellent and heartfelt article on a difficult topic of the big “C,” which is a rattling diagnosis to hear. My mother was a breast cancer survivor and she lived on her own (but very close by) and I remember a) how scary of a time it was as we didn’t know anything other than the size of it and what they recommended were her next steps. My mom always had dogs and cats, and even my horse were what got her through the loss of my father when she was only 51. She always shared an amazing bond with them. So naturally when she received her diagnosis in her early 70s, her Poodle who was her constant companion, really helped her. Gave her the reason to get up on days when she did not feel like it; would snuggle with her very closely and bring her love and comfort; and it also got her to go outside for walks. Pets are amazing. From my own experience, when she passed (not from breast cancer!) at age 94, it was my five Huskies who I buried my feelings (and face) into their fur. Many a tear-stained fur coat on them for quite a while..then a month later 9 days before Christmas, my beloved husky Gibson passed…from cancer! It was a double hit for me and it was the holiday season. My husband and daughter really rallied around me and my remaining four Sibes never left my side. I, too, had to keep moving through my grief, one foot in front of the other, because I still needed to care for them. Even way back in my youth my horse and dogs are what got me through the loss of my own father. They are such amazing animals with all that they do for their humans. And, to be a budget-saver too? Amazing. Thank you, Terri! Sharing!

    • Gosh, cancer seems to strike every family. It sucks! Our furry friends are the best in good and bad times. I’m so glad your mom had her little pup and you had your Five Sibes and then the other four when Gibson passed. They are the best medicine. Thank you for sharing your experiences. And thank you for your continued support and encouragement. I really appreciate it!

  5. So many great points here! I have a long-standing mental health battle/condition that I have been dealing with most of my life. I can honestly say that having a dog right by my side makes it 99% better. I don’t know that I would want to have to deal with something like that without a furry caretaker. They really do make that much of a difference! They always seem to know when I need them, too. I don’t have to call them up or ask for the cuddles when I’m having a “down” day. They just sense it and go out of their way to be there.

    • Oh, that’s such a great point, Britt! Our furry friends are great with helping our mental health. The furry kids definitely seem to know what you need, even when you can’t seem to think straight. They absolutely do help with making sense out of life. Very astute observations! Thank you so much for sharing!


Leave a Comment