After going through surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, cancer patients not only suffer from the symptoms of cancer but the side effects of the treatments; the physical pain expands into the mental sphere, causing anxiety, stress, discouragement and desperation, said Dr Wirawut Imsamran, deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Services.
The misery among cancer patients, especially in advanced cases, has led to efforts to subdue the pain using the sentiments of pleasure and relaxation, commonly derived from things they enjoy.
According to Dr Adisai Pattatang, director of Maha Vajiralongkorn Thanyaburi Hospital, pet therapy could be one of the answers as an alternative medicine for advanced cancer patients who love dogs. "This is to ensure that patients have the best life experiences possible during their remaining time," he explained.
"Playing with a dog is an activity that they enjoy and are familiar with; this reduces anxiety and promotes positive emotions in patients and relatives," said Dr Adisai.
As part of its palliative care programme for cancer patients, Maha Vajiralongkorn Thanyaburi Hospital has practised pet therapy since 2010, and the programme has continued to grow since then.
Buddy and Khao Pun are the two male Labrador Retrievers in the programme. "We use this breed because it is friendly, playful, and sociable, all suitable for relaxing the patient," said Dr Adisai.
Chan Klanprasit, a 33-year-old nurse at the Maha Vajiralongkorn Thanyaburi Hospital, told the Bangkok Post that there are no additional fees for this pet therapy service.
She explains: "The pet therapy service is the default for cancer patients; in each case, the hospital evaluates the patient's lifestyle and, if they love dogs, the hospital will ask if they want the pet therapy service or not."
The nurse went on to say that for patients who already have a pet at home, the hospital allows their family to bring the pet to visit them in hospital.
''Cats and small dogs are some of the pets that have been brought to visit patients in the past," Ms Chan said.
In one study published in The Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology in 2015, 42 cancer patients using animal therapy were tested; these patients were found to have significantly increased levels of emotional and social well-being after seven weeks.