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Relationships Between People with Cancer and Their Companion Animals: What Helps and Hinders

By Patricia Nitkin, Marla J. Buchanan

Category Journal Articles

This qualitative research project examined the impact of the relationships between persons with cancer and their companion animals. The goal of this study was to explore the helpful and unhelpful aspects of having a companion animal for people with cancer dealing with the emotional challenges accompanying diagnosis and treatment. The Enhanced Critical Incident Technique method was used to gather information on, and analyze and interpret the interviews of, 13 British Columbian women with cancer about their relationships with their companion animals. The face-to-face interviews yielded rich descriptions of these relationships and the ways in which companion animals contributed to or detracted from the participants’ sense of wellbeing during their illness. The analysis of relational impacts resulted in 13 categories, in rank order by participation rate: Companionship & Presence; Emotional & Social Support; Purpose & Role; How Companion Animals are Different from People; Health and Pain Management; Companion Animal Intuition & Adaptability; Being Positive & in the Moment; Companion Animal as Protector & Caregiver; Touch; Unconditional Love & Devotion; Existential & Spiritual Factors; Family Members & Family Finances; and Caretaking of Sick or Dying Companion Animal. The findings are congruent with current human– animal bond literature, confirming the significant and primarily positive impact of the psychosocial support experienced by human beings from their companion animals. It is recommended that, for practice and research, the areas of counselling, psychosocial oncology, and psychological theory include and explore the impact of companion animals in their clinical work and understanding of the experiences and needs of people with cancer and other conditions.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 33
Issue 2
Pages 243-259
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2020.1719764
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Companion
  3. Human-animal interactions
  4. Qualitative Research
  5. social support