Guest Post Written By: Macey Bernstein
Pets. They are more than just your house animal. They are family. Not only are they good for protection against intruders, they also possess ‘healing powers’. We aren’t talking magic or anything, but, grab your fur baby and hold him or her close. They are literally radiating with therapeutic properties. They can literally turn your frown upside down!
Your quality of life and overall happiness is everything. If you don’t have that—what do you have? Nothing? Health trumps everything else.
Having spinal stenosis, disc herniation, or sciatica means radiating pain. No matter which chronic condition you have—pain is your constant companion.
You need to feel good in order to carry on throughout your day. You need to feel good in order to wake up and get out of bed. You need to feel good in order to fall and stay asleep. When you’ve exhausted all of your resources and still feel pain, what are you to do?
Although we are not talking about curing your chronic pain, there are ways to feel some form of comfort in this maze called life.
So, Let’s Talk Fur Babies
Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, explained:
”A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”
Pet therapy, also known as ‘animal-assisted therapy,’ has been used as a healing tool since the late 1800s.
“From animal visits for children in hospitals to those with dementia, and now people with back pain, studies suggest there are some important benefits obtained from these furry visitors,” advised Dr. David L. Katz, a board-certified specialist in preventive medicine and public health, who is also a clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine.
Countless studies have been prepared to evaluate both the physical and emotional effects of pet companionship in regards to pain relief, especially back pain.
“With regard to pet ownership, one study found that people with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without pets. As an added plus, it’s been found that pet therapy not only helps those with physical and emotional needs but appears to benefit the entire family,” Dr. Katz added.
Many physical and emotional benefits have been witnessed from pet therapy.
What Are Those Physical and Emotional Benefits?
- A decreased need for pain medications in those who suffer from chronic back pain
- Lowered stress levels
- A calming effect
- Improved mood
- Decreased anxiety in hospitalized patients
- Decreased loneliness and social isolation
- Decreased fatigue
- A sense of emotional connection
- May even enhance the will to live
The breed of animals that can become service pets is fairly diverse. Dogs, in this case, referred to as canine therapy, are considered the most popular breed for pet therapy. Of the dog species, Golden Retrievers are most well-known for canine therapy. However, cats, birds, farm animals, and even dolphins are noted for their soothing, calming effects on those with chronic conditions.
There are numerous philosophies that have endeavored to clarify why pet therapy helps those with physical and mental conditions. Subliminally, it appears as if relaxation, as well as buffering the stressors in our lives are the primary pivotal roles.
Katz said that researchers found a physiological basis for what intuition tells us. He said that studies on healthcare professionals who were visited by a pet therapy dog found that those who had time with the dog had a significant decrease in cortisol levels in the blood.
This ‘biological’ stress reduction was noted with as little as five minutes of time spent with the dog. Another study found that AAT [animal-assisted therapy] decreased catecholamines in the blood.
“To understand the significance of this, chemicals in our bodies such as cortisol and the catecholamine epinephrine (adrenaline) are known as stress hormones. These chemical messengers do have a place and a role in the functioning of our bodies. As instigators of the ‘fight or flight’ response, they are what make us alert if we hear a prowler in the middle of the night, or have to fight off a lion in the jungle,” Dr. Katz concluded.
Pet therapy triggers another form of chemical in the human body, as well. It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about getting an ‘endorphin rush’ from spending time with cute, furry animals.
Endorphins are chemicals that perform as the body’s natural pain reliever. Animal-assisted therapy may result in an increased level of endorphins within patients who spend regular time with them.
Research and real-life scenarios suggest that pet therapy is safe and effective. Dr. Katz shared the therapeutic benefits of having pets with BackerNation and some of the associated risk factors as well. (This is assuming that the pets have been screened to provide pet therapy and are up to date on immunizations.)
What Are the Potential Problems?
- Behavior problems – Animals, just like humans, do not act flawlessly every second, even those who are carefully trained.
- Allergies – Some people have allergies to our furry friends.
- People who are immunosuppressed – A reduction of efficacy of the immune system—meaning your body’s immune system is not working properly. Some drugs to treat cancer and other illnesses may cause your body to become immunosuppressed. In this case, pet interaction may be harmful to the patient because of increased susceptibility to disease
- Disease transmission – There is a small risk that diseases carried by animals may be transmitted to humans. These are known as zoonotic diseases. With animals that are carefully screened, the risk of zoonotic diseases should be quite small.
- Fear of animals – For people who are frightened by animals such as dogs or birds, pet therapy (at least with those animals) won’t be beneficial.
- Respect for the animal – Animals that are used for therapy should not be exploited or placed in situations that could be uncomfortable or harmful to them.
What If My Apartment Doesn’t Permit Pets?
Unfortunately, if you live in an apartment complex that does not permit animals, it may pose a potential problem for your therapy pet. However, there are a few ways to get around this obstacle.
Often condos will have a size requirement for your pet. If it’s possible for you to choose a smaller and hypoallergenic dog, your landlord may be more apt to say yes. Shedding and cleanliness may also be an issue, which is why we say hypoallergenic pets are more suitable for apartment living—such as the Maltipoo.
In addition, you can officially register your animal to be a service dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog—meaning, you have a doctor’s note and a valid reason for your animal. For a comprehensive breakdown of everything you need to do, check this out.
What Real-Life Therapy Pet Owners Have to Say
BackerNation took it one step further and found comments from people just like you who live with chronic pain and who use their pets as a helpful treatment method.
One back pain sufferer reported, “I am fortunate to have a very understanding and supportive family. But, sometimes, I just don’t feel like talking about my pain, but I still want to feel comforted, if that makes sense. The wonderful thing about my dog is, how she is so in tune with my feelings. She is a dog, she can’t talk. But, we are so bonded that she understands me and my current emotions.
“She loves to play and brings me toys all the time. But, without my having to say a word, she knows when my pain level is just not up for that. She knows when I am having a bad day. And she responds perfectly! Instead of bringing me toys, she lays by my side all day. She gives me sweet doggie kisses and cuddles. If I get up to move, she stays right by my side as if saying, ‘It’s okay, Mom, I won’t let you fall.’ It is just amazing to me how much love and joy she brings me.”
Another said, “Cheech is my buddy. He goes everywhere with me, and my pup knows when I need a down day. I would be lost without him!”
Another therapy pet owner said, “My 4-month-old Izzy, I call her my pain therapy dog. She gives so much love. She takes such good care of me.”
What are some of the ways that pet therapy has helped you heal from physical and mental illnesses relating to your back or spine condition? Please share photos of your fur babies, and how they support your back pain with our community today.
Can’t have a pet? Try the next best thing!
Submitted by Macey Bernstein and Chris Jones of BackerNation.com.
Macey Bernstein is a content specialist with a passion for crafting useful and actionable content that improves the lives of her audience. She is a dedicated reporter with a nose for news, a love for community, and a reputation for impeccable ethics. From writing press releases and legal briefs to event planning and execution, she displays exceptional skill in journalism and creative direction. Macey is a graduate of the West Virginia University School of Journalism with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations.
Chris Jones is an editorial and public relations consultant for small businesses and individual brands. He helps businesses and brands to attract customers using a combination of strategic content development and implementation, press and media outreach, and building and nurturing strategic relationships. An award-winning journalist, editor, and designer, Chris has been in the media and marketing industry for 18 years where he’s interviewed high-profile influencers, celebrities, and New York Times best-selling authors.