10 Benefits Your Pets Give You

by Jane Ashley

We’ve all heard about the benefits of pets. Do you know the reasons why pet ownership is so good for us? There are at least 10 reasons that our pets benefit us as cancer patients and cancer survivors.

Unconditional Love

1. Stress Reliever. Studies show that petting a dog or cat relieves stress. First of all, they are very good listeners. Having cancer is stressful – we are scared, we are anxious and we are frustrated over the lack of control in our lives. As crazy as it sounds, talking to your pet about your unspoken fears is an appropriate way to talk through your fears – pets don’t judge you – they simply sign and press their muzzle against your hand in complete understanding.

2. Unconditional Love. Many times, we just need unconditional love – no strings attached. Unfortunately, a cancer diagnosis sometimes tears a family apart. But your cat or dog don’t care about the drama. Our pets love us unconditionally. They are always thrilled when we open the front door. They dance and twirl when it’s “din-din” time. They sense our moods – when we are down or sad, they come to us and sit beside us, as if to say, “It’s going to be OK.”

3. Companionship. Any single person who owns a cat or dog will immediately tell you that they don’t feel as lonely as they did before they owned a pet. The pet doesn’t even need to be a four-legged critter. People who live alone appreciate the companionship of a bird too. Pets drive away that “all alone” deadly quiet feeling in your house or apartment. The reassuring patter of doggie paws on your floor, the sound of your cat batting a ball around the living room or the twitter of a finch or canary help people who live alone fell less alone.

4. Cognitive Health. Maybe our pets can help us with chemo brain too. It’s true … studies show that owning a pet helps cognitive health. Studies show that interaction with pets, including grooming, actually improves people’s scores on mental health tests. Patients with dementia are less agitated and anxious and more alert. Owning a pet provides “structure” in our life too – we have to get up to walk our dogs and feed our kitties and doggies – structure improves our cognitive health.

5. More Exercise. A dog provides the perfect incentive to get out and walk more. Of course, you can just let them out in the backyard to “go potty” if you’re feeling bad. But taking your dog out for regular exercise benefits your pet and you. Regular exercise helps cancer patients in active treatment by reducing aches and pains. Exercise benefits survivors by helping prevent recurrences.

Walking The Dog

6. Less Physical Pain. Really? Yes, really. Less pain is probably a result of getting up and moving when you take your take your dog out for regular potty breaks and/or take them out for a walk. Moving, fresh air and sunshine all promote less pain. Studies even show that joint replacement patients needed less pain medication when they spent just 5-15 minutes with a pet-therapy dog. Pets provide a positive distraction from pain.

7. Protects Our Hearts. A study by the American Heart Association confirms that owning a dog in particular reduces the risk of heart disease. Experts speculate that the exercise and stress relief from dog ownership is probably responsible for this benefit to heart health.

8. Promotes Social Interaction. When my first husband walked my Yorkie, every woman within 10,000 miles of us descended on him to talk. People are drawn to animals, and they are the perfect icebreaker to begin new friendships. They could even be a “date magnet” for you.

9. Lowers Blood Pressure. Studies show that holding and/or petting an animal actually lowers the person’s blood pressure. Interacting with a pet raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine – neurotransmitters with soothing properties.

Cuddly Partner

10. Living in the Moment. Animals don’t worry about tomorrow. We could all learn something from their “live in the now” attitude. They are thrilled to see you even if you’ve only been gone for 10 minutes. They love to be fed. They appreciate fresh water to drink. They love to go for a walk. It seems that they have no concept of worry about tomorrow. As long as their needs for the moment are fulfilled, they are happy. How much happier we humans would be if we could learn to live in the moment too.

Safety Tips for Pet Owners While in Active Treatment

The American Cancer Society and other cancer-related organizations recognize the value of pet ownership for both the patient and caregiver during active treatment. But there are some “good sense” precautions to take. Most are common sense – avoid getting scratched or bitten, be careful handling animal waste, get someone else to clean bird cages or fish tanks.

The Bottom Line …

If you own a pet when you’re diagnosed, your pet is going to benefit you in ways that you didn’t imagine. If you don’t own a pet, it’s best to delay adopting a furry friend until your treatment has ended – housebreaking and getting into a new daily routine may be a little too stressful for a patient in active treatment. But if pet ownership sounds like something you’d like to do, by all means, get a pet as part of your cancer survivorship plan. Consider adopting – shelter animals seem to be especially grateful to have a new human who will love them unconditionally.

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