Written by, Heather Metz, AGNP-C
(Yes, your furry friends do much more than offer companionship)
Many people have pets whether it be man’s best friend, cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, and everything in between, but did you know there are health benefits to owning a pet? Even if you’re not enthusiastic about owning a pet yourself, spending 10-15 minutes with any animal has shown to decrease cortisol levels. This is a stress hormone and as we all know, the more stressed/anxious we are, the higher our pain level. Something as simple as petting a dog can make significant improvements in our mood, thus improving our pain.
Pets also keep us active. One of the best treatments for chronic pain is movement, the more we move, the more limber our joints and muscles are, decreasing stiffness and spasm. Taking Sparky for a daily walk or playing with Mittens with a laser pointer is a great way to get moving. Also placing a bird/squirrel feeder outside for viewing can decrease stress and increase movement (due to refilling the feeders) for those patients that have animal allergies.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, animal assisted therapy is a non-pharmacological treatment for the management of chronic pain. A memorable story for me is when I was the clinical manager of a subacute rehabilitation unit. This unit allowed pets to visit. I had a female patient with a wound vacuum to her abdomen after a surgical infection and wound that failed to heal. Changing the dressing was very painful, so much so, morphine that was given prior to procedure was not effective. One day her daughter brought in her cat, Esme. Holding her companion during the dressing change decreased her anxiety and also took her mind off the pain. So, three days a week Esme came to visit, and the patient healed up 2 weeks later and was discharged home.
Pets are not just our companions, they may be very beneficial to our health in more ways than one.
Marcus DA, Bernstein CD, Constantin JM, Kunkel FA, Breuer P, Hanlon RB. Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Med. 2012;13(1):45.57. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22233395. Accessed April 14th, 2019