The Health Benefits of Dog Ownership for MPN Cancer Patients

A Pet is like Medication Minus the Side Effects

Second in a Series – “Natural Healing Ideas for MPN patients”

by David Wallace

There have been many studies weighing the emotional and physical benefits of owning a pet.  One study found that people with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure than non pet owners.   Your cat, bird, rabbit or gerbil may serve the same purpose….but there are many reasons why dogs are man’s best friend.  So for the purpose of this article, the writer is referring to dogs as “a pet with benefits.”

The overall benefits for cancer patients include:

  • Decreased fatigue (like it or not, someone has to get out and walk the dog….rain, sleet and snow!!)
  • Less psychological distress
  • Decreased pain (reflected in a lower need for pain meds in those who suffer chronic pain)
  • Improved mood
  • A sense of emotional connection
  • Decreased anxiety……and without a doubt, a lower level of loneliness and social isolation

A Personal Perspective

Having a dog has made a world of difference in my life, in numerous ways.  Bailey is my 2 year old mini Aussiedoodle (a mix of Australian Shepard and a Poodle).  Smart, cuddly, cute as a button, loving and very playful….the perfect companion!  I’ll skip the more entertaining “chick magnet” stories and focus on a traumatic event….where Bailey chipped in like a lifesaver.

health benefits of dog ownership for mpn cancer patients

dogs benefit mpn cancer patientsIn February 2016, I was diagnosed with a basil cell carcinoma (skin cancer).  What was supposed to be a routine removal of a small spot on my leg (easy stuff….my friends & family reassured me), turned into a nasty wound requiring stitches underneath and 12 staples on the skin surface.  The next day, intense pain set it to my swollen leg, requiring an urgent follow up doctor visit and a diagnosis of “I’m sorry your wound is infected.”  Time for a round of strong antibiotics, painkillers and I will need to see you 3 times a week for the next 2 weeks at least.  I’ll skip the gory details and try to stay relevant.  But it’s important to note that every single step I took (when I HAD to walk) hurt like a 12 on the 1 – 10 pain scale!

So where’s the part about Bailey being a lifesaver?

During that time-frame, my little pup was only about 7 months old.  So instead of getting me up at 3 am to go potty very early on…..I had the luxury of “sleeping in” til 5:30 or 6 am.  If not for having to take her out SO early and do what dogs do, I would have rolled over and slept til noon.  Instead, I got up at the crack of dawn, stumbled slowly, writhing in pain with each step to get her outside to go potty.  I’d catch a quick snack like a banana or yogurt, pop a painkiller to ease the agony and go back to bed.  Bailey could sense my distress and was my constant, caring companion, laying by my side all day (except for potty breaks) and all night long.

Being a single patient, this meant the world to me….more than words can describe.  As it turned out, those short outside “puppy breaks” were the best medicine, as it kept me from getting too awfully stiff and forcing me to move around on a regular basis, recommended….but easier said than done.  Three months later, I was feeling much better, mostly healed and Bailey allowed me additional hours of much needed sleep……hallelujah, my little pup had turned in to this man’s best friend!

Patient Contributions on their “furry friends”

On a lighter note, several patients chipped in describing how their four legged friends have helped them during their MPN journey.  Thank you for your contributions to this story.


Some people have guardian angels, I have guardian puppies, Ralph (yellow), Wally (black).  It started when I had the strokes which ultimately led to my diagnosis.

Ralph who was never allowed on furniture, jumped into the bed when I was napping and refused to leave.  He couldn’t even be pulled off.  Ralph always knows when something isn’t right or when I just need a hug.  With a dog, no words are required – with an MPN, sometimes things are too hard to put to words.

Ralph and Wally continue to stick very close when my levels are off or when I am very busy; it’s as if they are trying to remind me to take a dog’s approach to life:

Live in the present moment; Enjoy a nap each day; Always accept treats; Show family and friends how much you love them every day!


My Australian Shepard, Lacey has been my loyal  companion for the last nine years.  She keeps me active as we walk around the neighborhood most days and we play frisbee in the yard.  Sometimes we go to the dog park.  

When we are not together, she is guarding the house while I’m away.  She greets me with a happy bark and loving kisses.  She’s always ready for some sort of play and keeps me going!  She’s my best friend!


My dog Shamy is a Wheaten Terrier / Poodle cross who keeps me physically active with up to three walks a day plus agility classes.  She is highly social and loves to meet other dogs and people.  Often when we go for a walk, I will meet and chat with fellow dog owners.  People smile and wave when they see us out walking. 

Feeding, grooming and generally look after her health takes the focus off me and my disease.  It is hard to feel down when she licks your hand or snuggles up for you to rub her chest.  She is a good listener and never judges her human owner whom she likes to greet with a wagging tail . 


My dog Snow has PV and roles are reversed in our two lives.  I am the one supporting her with phlebotomies and medication that humans take.  There are no support groups for dogs so I joined this group (a PV Facebook support group) to educate myself on the disease in the hopes of extending her life.  I understand now why some days she moves slowly or at times, cries out when I simply pick her up.


I rescued my 6th pup, TedE, at Animal Control in Orlando, a high kill shelter.  He was an owner surrender and appeared to be improperly contained while there.  His horrific ID pic (not shown) motivated me to fight for his life.

As one of the coolest dogs I’ve ever shared my home with, he then rescued me from worrying about PV.  His spunk and personality are on fire 100% of my waking hours.  He is the best anti-depressant and I look forward to a long life with him as he was several months old when he landed here.

About David Wallace

Founder of PV Reporter, a resource for Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) patients and caregivers. After being diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera (PV) in 2009, I utilized social media to connect with "informed patients" and develop a better understanding of emerging treatment options. My philosophy on patient care is straight forward - "educating the patient is essential, so the patient can guide their physician to meet his or her needs." PV Reporter is a comprehensive resource hub giving visitors vital tools to become "empowered patients."

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