Friday, September 13, 2013
Animals not only provide unconditional love, they may contribute to our healing. The simple act of petting an animal can take the focus off the pain and depression that comes with a chronic or terminal illness. Studies have shown that pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart attack, lower anxiety, reduced pain, and less need for pain medication. A recent study found that time spent with pets decreased anxiety and depression in cancer patients. Animals can make treatment less stressful.
When the day promises to be difficult, a pet gives its human reason to get out of bed in the morning. A walk with the dog not only helps the dog but gets the dog-owner out in the fresh air for exercise and provides the possibility of increased social interaction as you meet up with other walkers and dog lovers. The attention directed to the dog can be a welcome diversion from unrelenting discussions of your health.
If your fur baby is not a dog, don’t despair. Yes, you can take your cat for a walk. When my mother moved to Memphis, I reasoned rightly that walking her cat would be good for her. Because it is difficult to teach an old cat new tricks and this one had not ever been on a leash, I bought a cat stroller. No kidding. It is a light weight, vented, kennel on wheels—much like a fold up baby stroller. Unfortunately neither Mom nor Puddy cottoned to the idea. Mom was afraid the new neighbors would think she was a lunatic if they stopped to peek at the “baby” in the stroller. And the cat…well who knows what the cat thought? Although, his disdain was obvious.
It is true that with compromised immune systems there is the risk of contracting an animal borne illness, but the risk can be minimized, according to the CDC, if certain precautions are taken. Have someone else clean the litter box or wear gloves when cleaning out cages, kennels, or performing clean-up tasks. If scratched or nipped during play time, give the wound immediate attention with soap, water, and antibiotic.
The benefits of pet ownership for cancer patients far outweigh the risks. If you have a pet, you don’t need to be convinced of the therapeutic value. If aren’t a pet owner, you might want to give serious consideration to joining the ranks of the 72 million American households that include a pet. Why not complement your chemo with a prescription for a pot-bellied pig? Go for a kitty-cat cure or a rooster remedy? Maybe get help from a hedgehog? I can’t guarantee a longer survival, but I’ll wager your survival time will be greatly enriched.
Melinda Winchester 1 Year cancer survivor and Tudie