Why choose a dog when you’re sick

Vermes Nikolett

2023. December 3 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

In the case of serious illness, the first thing that comes to mind is not keeping a dog. Is there any chance of a cure? How long will this hell last? Who will operate? And many similar questions. The idea of keeping a pet is not even considered, even though it can help much more than we think. A pet gives you strength and hope.


It’s no coincidence that today psychologists also recommend keeping animals when a crisis occurs. Because a four-legged friend can distract negative thoughts, strengthen a sense of responsibility and give rhythm to the day, i.e. keep you alive in inhumane conditions. The dog may not be able to go with its owner to all check-ups or to the ward after surgery, but it makes it easier to cope. Whether it’s a tumour or a low chance of recovery. But is it a responsible decision to take a dog home when we are sick?

A dog is unconditionally loyal to his owner.

Distracts bad thoughts

Today, an increasing number of so-called therapy dogs are being trained, but in this case no specialised animal is needed. On the contrary, by training a puppy, it gives an extra task to its sick owner, who can forget about the illness for hours. And it’s always a good topic of conversation with a four-legged friend: how’s the training going? Is he house-trained yet? How are the nights? Are they making friends with other animals? Is your vet good?

These questions divert attention from the sympathy that makes the daily life of a person suffering from cancer or another slowly developing disease easier. Of course, this doesn’t mean that talking about the condition is forbidden because of the dog. Instead, it allows the person to better control the questions directed towards them. For example, there’s no need to start every family and friend encounter with the same painful conversations. Therefore, it’s worth taking on the responsibilities of dog ownership during illness.

It’s natural that in the case of a serious illness, as responsible pet owners (or prospective owners), we need to consider the possibility that we may not be able to care for the dog in the long term. While a positive attitude and belief in recovery are crucial, it doesn’t rule out preparing for a sadder scenario. If we are certain that our new companion will receive loving care even in our absence, we can still consider having a dog while dealing with an illness. Don’t hesitate to welcome them into our lives. If we can’t ensure proper care for them, there should be a Plan B in place.

“Plan B” for the dog’s company

There are those who cannot afford to keep a pet while their everyday lives are filled with lengthy treatments. However, even when unwell, there is no need to give up the companionship of a dog. For example, psychologist Luca Adámy brought a puppy into her life to offer a new method to her patients through it.

Our weekly dog therapy group attracts a lot of clients, and even those who are usually reserved, typically not talking about themselves, open up in it

– says the psycologist, then immediately adds that a therapy animal has an extremely positive impact on people with its mere presence. In other words, the four-legged companion helps both in coping with a serious diagnosis and in other mental health issues.

For instance, one of my clients with panic disorder shared that when they felt unwell at the pedestrian crossing, they looked at the therapy dog, Babér (Bayleaf), petted him, and their condition improved just from that.

A true doctor of the soul

There are known stories where desperate family members choose a dog for a seriously ill loved one. Many individuals reject everything because they fear there’s no point in having a pet anymore. However, the new, enthusiastic four-legged friend provides hope while boosting self-confidence. In times of difficult health conditions, those affected inevitably reflect on their lives. They assess successes and failures. In such times, the dog helps provide self-validation: their owner is indeed capable of taking responsibility for another being. Therefore, the four-legged companion becomes more of a mental support amid challenges, unconditionally sticking with their companion. Experiencing this brings joy and satisfaction.

Cancer dog and owner psychology therapy dog veterinarian

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