Pets – your best friends for chronic conditions

Anyone who owns a pet will agree that animals are a great source of unconditional love and support. But, for a person with a chronic condition, a furry friend can provide much more than companionship and a cuddle. Studies show that pets can help with both physical and mental health, from lowering stress and blood pressure to battling mental health and easing chronic pain.

Benefits of Having a Pet

  • Cardio vascular health – lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol
    Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. A survey by the Australian National Heart Foundation also revealed that people who own pets, especially men, tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease. They’re not only four times more likely to be alive after a year if they own a dog, but they’re also more likely to survive a heart attack.
  •  Pets Relieve Stress
    Simply being in the same room as your pet can have a calming effect. A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at and pat our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy. It’s also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone and a decrease in heart rate bringing a sense of contentment and calm. It also satisfies the human need for touch.
  • Increase your physical activity
    Dogs especially help us get out and enjoy the outdoors while getting some regular exercise. You’ll be motivated by their need for a walk no matter what the weather! Ideal weight and exercise are important lifestyle factors for managing arthritis, so let Fido’s infectious zeal for play help to motivate you to get on top of both. Getting outdoors is also good for our mindfulness and mental health.
  • Pets can help with anxiety and depression
    Some of the problems associated with depression and anxiety, or living alone, are social withdrawal and feelings of loneliness. Being around pets as stated has a calming effect and promotes a sense of emotional connectedness and overall well-being. Pets make us smile, provide purpose and keep us engaged in daily tasks such feeding, bathing, requiring attention and walks. Pets also provide a catalyst for social interaction – you can talk to people while walking your dog, waiting at the vet and going to a dog park.
  • Help with Chronic Pain
    Pets not only provide a distraction and comfort, but also patting your animal releases endorphins which are powerful pain relievers. Demonstrated by a study, that showed that those who had undergone total joint replacement surgery needed 28 percent less pain medication after daily visits from a therapy dog than those who got no canine contact.
  • Improves Relationships
    Pets can increase family connectedness providing a shared focal point to bond with, care for, talk about and admire. Whether you make your kids take turns walking the dog or it’s always your job to feed the cat, research has proven having a pet is good for the whole family. Pets can be a very important bridge between family members – such as  grandchildren connecting with their grandparents, providing a convenient and easy topic of conversation.
Keep in Mind

Although there are many benefits to owning a pet, there are some things that you should keep in mind.

  • Pets can be expensive – food, grooming, vet bills, medication etc, you need to have the finances to be able to cover the costs associated with pet ownership.
  • You need to have the physical ability to care for it. If you have gait or stability issues, there may be a problem of pets getting under your feet when you move around the house and garden. If it’s a dog they need regular walks. You could also consider getting a dog walker if needed.
  • It’s best not to get a puppy – as they require more work and energy, training, de-sexing etc. Consider going to the many rescue sites to get a pet that is trained and out of the troublesome puppy phase! See RSPCA info below on adopting a pet.
  • Sanitary considerations – Animals can pass on infectious agents such as dermatophytosis, taxoplasmosis, toxocariasis, echinococcus and giardia. People with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to this. Dogs and cats can also cause allergic reactions in some pet owners. Talk to your doctor about your intention of getting a pet before proceeding.

There are many benefits to pet ownership, it’s important to be informed before you make the big commitment. Refer to the links below for further information.

Sources & Further Reading

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners – the pet effect

RSPCA – benefits of pet ownership

Pet Positives – Pets improve lives 

Harvard Health – Benefits of Pet Ownership 

Mother Nature Network: Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it 

Science Daily: Animal therapy reduces need for pain medication after joint-replacement surgery

RSPCA: Adpot a Pet

Please note: this article is of a general nature only, please seek medical advise for your individual circumstances.