This is a guest post from Kim at www.fromthemiddleeats.wordpress.com
How Can your Pet Heal You?
Having a pet is like having a child, you love them, feed them, play with them, make sure they have friends and treat them as part of the family. I grew up with pets, for as long as I can remember we always had something furry with four legs running around the house; it started with four cats and a dog: Rex, Baby Cat, Pippa, Polly and Shadow the German Shepherd/desert dog mix. These animals were my life. Shadow was my best friend, we would lie on the floor watching TV, my head on his belly, Polly sat on his back, content and happy.
By the time we moved house Rex had passed away, Pippa ran away, and Polly bolted when we got to the new house, our fur family was down to two: Baby Cat, who wasn’t such a baby anymore and Shadow. When my brother came along Shadow loved him, they spent hours playing in the garden – once my brother even tried to ride him like a horse…it didn’t end well, and he has the scar on his eyebrow to prove it.
I still remember the day I found out we had lost Shadow, I came home from a summer in the UK, and he wasn’t there, I searched the whole house before my parents told me about his heatstroke…I cried for days. A little while later we adopted Lara, a German Shepherd puppy who had been abused by her previous owner and rescued by a lovely lady from K9 Friends Dubai. She came home, and she was nervous at first, but before long she was happy, confident and playful, living the life she should have always had.
Then we got Vinny, a pure bread German Shepherd his previous owners didn’t want any more so they had him tied to a tree outside. He came home with us where he would be loved and on his first day at home he got so excited when my mum came home from the shops that he forgot the stairs existed and leaped off the second story balcony – thankfully onto the mattress in the boat sat in the garage below!
Vinny was with us for a few years before I moved to the UK for university and for that year I was dogless; it was weird. I used to go round to my friend’s place under the guise of hanging out, but really I just wanted to play with his dogs. My life felt empty without them. I ended up spending that year falling deeper and deeper into depression, and I couldn’t pull myself out of it, so ended up coming home to Dubai where I moved into a still dogless house.
After a few months of being home I met a guy in Rock Bottom – the name says it all – and we hit it off, I started spending almost every day at his house with him and his three dogs, a big chocolate lab called Blackjack (BJ), a feisty little Jack Russell called Tess (who actually wasn’t so little) and an old desert dog named Max who was so soft and loved to talk. I loved being there, surround by these crazy dogs who were just part of the family, we’d sit and cuddle on the sofa, they would come in the pool with us, “help” us cook dinner; they were always there, always underfoot.
After a few years, we moved out – me and my Rock Bottom guy – and we were once again dogless (he had the same problem as me, went to university in Australia and missed his doggies). It was tough, we spent almost a year with no dog in the house and in that time my mum got sick, almost died and had to be taken back to the UK in the hopes of finding someone who could figure out what was wrong, I hated my job, I struggled to deal with my family and I was worried about my brother who wasn’t dealing with it well. I started finding that depression again, I shut myself off from a lot of the world, I broke my coccyx, and I started my blog, – silver lining and all that – but I started to feel defeated. I was so scared of loosing my mum, I was in so much pain all the time, and I was done with life.
My mum came home in January doing much better – the doctors she went to see in the UK were far more competent that the ones here. I started to feel a little bit better, but for the most part, I was still feeling like rubbish. So in February when I went to meet a friend for lunch, and I met Stella (at the time called Cookie) I knew who I needed in my life.
I still remember walking outside to the garden of the kennels where my friend worked and bounding across the grass came five little sausages and straight to me came Cookie. I picked her up, we had a cuddle, and I fell in love. I went home that day and casually told the other half about this little puppy I’d seen today; I tugged on his heartstrings with the story of how they had all been dumped by their owner, and they were just 3 months old…I told him how he had to meet them, just to see how cute they were! But I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist, and I’d get my dog. Low and behold, two years later my little ween is the light of my life.
Now, I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, both since I was about 13 and when it flares up it hurts – I’m talking a lot, can’t get out of bed type pain. For years it was okay, I could deal with the pain and get on with things but the times when I was dogless was when I really noticed the problems and started to realize the true healing power of our four legged friends.
Think about it.
Your pet is there for you whenever you need them, first thing in the morning, late at night or after a long day at work; there they are, happy to see you with their tails wagging or a loving rub against your leg. They are the givers of unconditional love.
Animals have been used as treatment for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and relief of chronic pain and more often than not the effects are night and day. But why?
Well aside from the fact that animals are just generally amazing, there is also a science behind it. For example, a cat’s purr – which ranges from 20 Hz to 140 Hz – has been proven to be medically therapeutic for a range of illnesses. By petting a purring a cat you can reduce stress levels, and the vibrations from the purr help reduce inflammation, heal soft tissue and promote bone strength; plus, a recent study has shown that cat owners have 40% less risk of a heart attack.
But it’s not just those who are already suffering that can benefit from the love of a fur baby. Having a pet at home not only increases the oxytocin levels in our bodies making us feel happy and trusting, but it can help prevent a number of illnesses too. Aside from the obvious fact of you get more exercise if you have a dog because you have to walk it, it also helps avoid asthma, allergies and even eczema in children if there is a companion in the house from a young age – never mind the overall improvement of their immune system.
Animals as therapy isn’t a new idea, if we go as far back as 150 years ago we can see people were using dogs, cats, and other animals to help the healing process. Florence Nightingale recognized the power of pets as a healing tool when working with the mentally ill, she commented that “a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick…”. By the 1970s scientists and medical professionals started to research the and uncover the science behind these bonds and by 1980 a study had been published suggesting that heart-attack patients with dogs lived longer than those without.
But it’s not just dogs and cats, therapists have also found that birds, reptiles, small animals, horses and even fish can help people handle their emotions and behaviors.
It’s important to remember that the healing doesn’t just go one way either, animals benefit from these relationships too. Those who volunteer with animals or work with them are much more likely to adopt, giving these animals a change at a forever home, they are also more likely to encourage their friends to bring home a fur baby too.
So the next time your friend gushes about how wonderful their pet is, just remember that it’s not just all in the heads of crazy animal lovers, pets really do heal. I can tell you from personal experience how different my life has been when there have been animals in it, how different my mum’s health has been when she’s with her cat to when she’s out and away from him. A lot of it is psychological, I’m sure but is that a bad thing? If these animals, make you feel happy and loved then surely there is no downside.
Kim, the girl behind the camel from Middle Eats who writes about everything food, wellness and lifestyle in Dubai. As a spoonie with psoriasis her journey to better health is one that is always evolving, from her little family – one man and one dog – to discovering ways to heal and grow it’s all about exploring life. You can follow her journey here: www.fromthemiddleeats.wordpress.com