The topic of this month's Migraine and Headache Blog Carnival is "Pets as Therapy: How our pets help us cope with migraine and headache disorders." Ironically, I missed the yesterday's submission deadline because I was exhausted after spending the day at a continuing education seminar on "Animal Assisted Therapeutic Interventions." I have long been a believer in the therapeutic properties of pets, and Marlie, my standard poodle, use to go to work to "help" me with my Play Therapy practice every day before I went on disability. There were many days when I believe she provided much more therapeutic benefit to my clients than I did! Hanging in my office was a sign that read:
Marlie and Milo are essential to my physical and psychological well-being. They are my constant companions who are ever sensitive to how I feel. They are content to lie with me when I feel badly and to entertain me when I am bored. They cause me to laugh, to feel loved unconditionally, to feel less lonely and also meet my need for physical touch. They are often the reason I get up in the morning because I know I need to feed and care for them. When I am at my worst, they cuddle with me, providing me with warmth and love.
But why take my word for it when there is a plethora of research which supports the fact that pets are not only great companions but are also psychologically and physiologically beneficial whether you suffer from a chronic disease or not. My friend Rise Van Fleet has a website entitled the Playful Pooch which focuses on the benefits of animal assisted play therapy. Press the word DOG to go to her site. Some of the results of Dr. Van Fleet's research has indicated the following conclusions about using dogs in therapy with children; however, her conclusions and those of other researchers show that this information can also be extrapolated to adults. (To read her complete article, please go HERE.)
1. "Animals help (people) overcome their fears and reduce their defenses."
2. "They help (people) feel accepted. The animals show affection, interest and attention that (people) need.... They provide comfort."
3. "They give (people) experiences of joy, playfulness and fun. They invite laughter and release."
4. "They empower people and build their confidence."
5. They provide sensory benefits, including touch/tactile experiences and physical affection that are not (always available or possible).
6. "They help (people) relax and calm down, reducing some of the anxieties. They provide comfort."
Other ways in which pets benefit our health include:
1. Pets are natural mood enhancers and can actually help with the production of Serotonin and Oxytocin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone which plays a significant role in mood regulation and is also associated with sleep, learning, Migraine and anxiety. Oxytocin, also a hormone, is strongly tied to trust. Medical research shows that Oxytocin is instrumental in human bonding and that Oxytocin levels go up when one is hugged or kissed (or pets their pet).
2. Petting an animal lowers blood pressure.
3. Pet owners have a lower risk of dying from heart disease.
4. Pets aid in increased mobility and activity because of our responsibility and desire to feed them, care for them and walk them.
5. Pets decrease the sense of isolation or being alone.
6. Petting an animal or lying next to it increases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones which can increase a sense of calm, satisfaction and joy and can actually reduce the sensation of pain. Additionally, cuddling up with a pet provides warmth which can be of benefit for aching body parts.
7. Pets increase our perceived ability to cope. (Siegel, 1999, Carmack, 1999)
8. Pets aid in lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels. (Anderson, 1992)
9. Pets fulfill many of the same support functions as humans. (Melson, 1998)
After reading this, how can you NOT afford to have a warm, fuzzy friend!?!