For those of you with pets, did you know about the multitude of health benefits that caring for them can bring? Remember your pets that next time you are feeling stressed out, anxious, and/or in pain.
There is extensive, mostly anecdotal, research showing that pets can help ease tension, anxiety, pain, and even help people cope with depression. Systematic research about physiological changes and benefits are still under research, but the following is a list of the multiple ways we think pets can help those with chronic conditions as well as people without:
- Routine. To feed out pets, we usually keep a routine. As mentioned before in a previous article, "Self-Help Tips for Depression: Routine," routine can be a powerful tool that keeps us motivated, as well as mentally and sensorily even-keeled. For those of us with chronic conditiosn and need to take multiple medications, you can match your medication time with pet-feeding time to turn it into a more meaningful and enjoyable experience.
- Physical activity. Whether you own an engergetic dog that needs to be walked 3 times a day or a cat who likes to lay around in sun-drenched windowsills all day, pet-owners tend to engage in more physical activity. So go outside for an intense game of fetch, take out the string from your hoodies, get down on the floor, and play!
- Social interaction. Who doesn't talk to their pet? When we feel like there isn't anyone else who understands what we are going through, a pet is usually there to listen. You might have to find them behind the TV or chase them down a bit first, but they are some of the best and most comforting listeners the world has to offer.
- Touch. The power of touch is great. When we are upset, receiving a hug or maybe just a simple touch on the elbow from someone can do wonders. Similarly with a pet, the repetitive motion of petting, maybe coupled with a sympathetic nudge and some purring noises, can raise your mood, lower cortisol levels, and take your mind momentarily off your pain.
Although there are so many benefits to having a pet, please consider whether getting a pet is right for you, your family, and your unique lifestyle. Important factors to think about regarding pet ownership include allergies, finances, responsibility, and whether you are at the advanced stages of illness.
For further exploration into whether pet ownership would benefit you or how you can include your pet in your regular healthcare routine, please feel free to contact me!
In loving memory of Owie, 9/20/07-9/12/15, my beautiful meowmi.
May you forever rest in peace, never be subjected to any unwanted petting, and have all the pate your heart ever desires.
Allen, J., Kellegrew, D., & Jaffe, D. (2000). The Experience of Pet Ownership as a Meaningful Occupation. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67, 271-278. doi: 10.1177/000841740006700409
Friedmann, E, Barker, S., & Allen, K. (2011). Physiological correlates of health benefits from pets. In P. McCardle (Ed), S. McCune (Ed), J. A. Griffin (Ed), & V. Maholmes (Ed), How animals affect us: Examining the influences of human–animal interaction on child development and human health (pp. 163-182). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/12301-009
Zimolag, U. & Krupa, T. (2009). Pet Ownership as a Meaningful Community Occupation for People With Serious Mental Illness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 126-137. doi:10.5014/ajot.63.2.126