The "pet effect" in cancer patients: Risks and benefits of human-pet interaction

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2019 Nov:143:56-61. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2019.08.004. Epub 2019 Aug 26.


"Can I keep my dog while receiving chemotherapy?" "Can my cat sleep on my bed while I'm on treatment?" "What precautions should I take with my pets in order to avoid infections?"" I read that my dog could give me breast cancer, is that true?" "Do you have assistance therapy dogs at your chemotherapy day unit?" These are not uncommon questions from cancer patients in oncology/haematology consultation rooms. The answers to these questions however, are widely unknown among physicians. Pet ownership is thought to provide patients with both emotional and physical health benefits. However, owning pets may also pose health risks to immunocompromised patients through zoonotic transmission of disease. Some studies have also suggested that the ownership of domestic pets may increase the risk of developing some cancers. But what is the evidence behind these claims? This paper presents the results of a literature review of a variety of scientific literature about pet ownership as a potential risk factor for suffering cancer, zoonotic diseases and the immunocompromised, and animal-assisted-therapy in cancer patients.

Keywords: Animal-assisted therapy; Cancer risk; Immunocompromised; Oncology patients; Pet ownership; Pet therapy; Zoonotic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Assisted Therapy
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Ownership
  • Pets / psychology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology