Turns out there are more health benefits to owning a pet than receiving their unconditional love. Studies have shown that a furry companion can improve your physical and mental well-being when you have chronic pain. Here's how:
1. Unsuspected motivation
Some mornings can be really tough — morning stiffness and low moods due to arthritis flare-ups make it hard to step out of bed. Whether it's a cat playfully getting you out of your covers to fill up its food bowl or a dog leading you to the door for a morning walk, having them by your side in the wee hours of the morning can bring joy.
You can also try these 10 tips to manage morning stiffness, to help you ease into your day.
2. Staying social
Having a furry companion will enhance your social life in ways you never expected, be it through bonding over pets at the office, getting to know your neighbours with pets or meeting other pet owners at your local dog park.
3. Boosting your mood
Bonding with pets can boost your mood, even on a rough day. It is hard not to reciprocate the excitement with which a dog greets us, and a cat's purr has healing power. Cuddling with animals has been linked to lowering cortisol, the stress hormone, and boosting oxytocin, the feel-good, love hormone. This means, having a pet in your life might help ease the pain caused by arthritis.
4. Physical benefits
"Taking longer, daily walks, visiting the park more frequently and exploring new trails with your dog, or setting aside playtime with your cat will boost your health and well-being," says Tara Stier, Occupational Therapist at Arthritis Society Canada. "When you have a pet, you reduce your sedentary time, increase cardiovascular activity, and in turn boost your overall physical health."
Even the simple act of watching fish swimming in a tank can reduce your heart rate and improve your mood. A study* has found that owning pets could lower your heart rate, blood pressure and improve your response to stress. This could be related to more time spent exercising each week.
Incorporating these walking tips into your routine can also be a winning strategy.
5. Distract you from pain and worry
Taking a regular walk with your dog or setting playtime with your cat can help get you into a relaxed and meditative, mental state. Arthritis flares can be extremely painful. It is important to listen to your body and rest if you need to. But keep in mind: motion is lotion! Even on a difficult day, taking a short, slow walk can have positive effects on your symptoms and state of mind.
If moving is out of the question, the support from a cuddly animal can be a welcome distraction to help you get through a rough day.
Things to consider
Before becoming a pet owner, here are some things to consider:
- Making sure your lifestyle and home environment are pet-friendly
- The financial commitments to owning a pet (food, supplies, vet care, etc.)
- Getting a smaller dog breed or a cat if you have mobility issues
- Adopting an older or already trained animal, rather than an energetic puppy or kitty
- Sanitary duties needed to avoid bacteria and infections, like toxoplasmosis, that may pose a greater risk to people with a compromised immune system
- Talk to your doctor before adopting a pet in case you have pet allergies