dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Benefit of Pets, especially for People in Pain

What do a dog, a cat, a bunny, a hamster, and a tarantula all have in common? They were all blessed last Sunday at the St. Francis’ Day ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service at my church. These pets were being honored for their place in the lives of their owners for the joy, comfort, and companionship they provide. However, science is proving pets are more than just our buddies, that their connection to us goes much deeper than we even realize. There are ongoing discoveries yielding evidence which show having a pet boosts both your mental and physical well-being. 

In my struggle with daily chronic pain, stress, and in the past my battle with depression and anorexia, my cats have given me more succor than I can ever say. There is no way to describe the peace and calm I gain when I stroke my purring cat. When I was in a dark fog and wanted to shut out the world, there was no way to avoid two insistently hungry cats whom I love, which made me feel needed and pushed me to be less isolated. When I’m in pain, just having my cat rub against my leg and show me his attention helps me to focus outside of myself, away from my pain. Seeing the two cats play and enjoying the humor of their actions makes me laugh, and I’ve written before about the scientifically proven healing benefits of laughter in a previous blog post HERE. Two days ago I posted the funny parody video we made using one of our cats as the star in tribute to the viral sensation “Gangnam Style” by Korean popstar Psy. We loved his funny dance video and all the other parodies on the web, so we decided to make our own. We laughed like loons trying to get our finicky feline to follow direction and we certainly had more than a heaping share of healing humor. You can enjoy the resulting silliness by watching our cat parody here: ~ GangNom-Nom Style! ~. Be sure you don't miss the outtakes at the very end of the video! I hope you have a good laugh & share the video with other cat-lovers. 

I could continue going on about my own cats improving life, but science is finding there's even more to it for *all* of us pet-owners. Research studies now directly reveal how pets help human health, particularly for people who live with chronic pain.

In a study presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for Anthrozoology in 2009, researchers at Loyola University Health System found that after having total joint-replacement surgery, people needed half as much pain medicine if pet therapy was a part of their recovery. The study also found that people with arthritis were less likely to report joint pain if they owned pets. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 1999 found that people older than 50 who owned pets were more active, reported less stress, and had better overall health than people who didn’t have pets. And research has shown that pets can help reduce stress in their owners, which could translate to fewer flares and less pain for people who have flares in response to stressful situations.

My cat, Jaspurr, cuddling in an blanket. He loves to
curl into my lap and purr when I'm on the computer.

Maggie Buckley, a woman who lives with the painful genetic disease of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (like myself), says “You cannot underestimate the power of pets when one is in pain. A pet comforts you and at the same time takes you out of yourself as you care for them... (and is) more powerful than any medication when it comes to comforting, soothing, and distracting you when you are experiencing pain.”

A personal friend mine, whom I will call Marilyn, has a shih tzu who is very attuned to her pain flares. She says when she’s suffering a migraine or severe knee pain and must lie down, her dog will curl up gently against the part of her body which is hurting and lend her warmth and support. Marilyn says it feels very healing and comforting, and makes her even more connected to her tiny dog.

Other pet / human bond research studies 
show that pet owners ...

~   have overall reduced stress and anxiety
~   have improved mood
~   have greater self-esteem
~   get some relief from their depression and are less preoccupied
~   have reduced blood pressure and heart rates during stressful events
~   have improved immune function
~   stay home sick less often
~   make fewer visits to the doctor
~   get more exercise
~   are more extroverted and tend to be less fearful
~   have an increased sense of responsibility and purpose that contributes to their overall well-being
~   have lower cholesterol and triglycerides
~   have reduced risk of stroke
~   live longer
these studies are referenced from articles listed at the end of this post

If chronic pain makes your physical abilities unpredictable or you have a condition which has periods of remissions or recurrences, you may be concerned about adopting a pet. Keep in mind, if pet care becomes too difficult or if you need an occasional break, pet sitters and dog walkers are available at reasonable rates to help you in nearly every community across the country. You can also ask family and/or friends to help you with whatever your temporary needs may be. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help if you really need it.

Whether we consider them to be just plain animals or prescriptions for better health, there is no denying that our finned, furry, feathery, and scaly companions give us more than unconditional love. And in my opinion, that alone is enough reason to own a pet!

*Articles referenced in my post:

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