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Pets Provide Therapy for Chronic Illness Sufferers

 Life can be difficult when you suffer from a chronic illness.  Although some people are still able to work while dealing with a chronic illness, there are also many people whose health conditions require them to spend much of their days home alone.  

Humans were not made to thrive without social interactions and isolation can be very depressing.  The fact that we live in an age where we can maintain social interaction via the internet goes a long way to help alleviate the loneliness, but nonetheless, physical contact can not be had online.  Pets provide much needed companionship and have the added benefit of loving to be touched and hugged.

For those who spend most of their days alone at home, having a pet can make all the difference in the world to their quality of life.  There is a psychological struggle that comes from watching others in your household leave day after day to interact with the outside world, while you stay behind.  Having a pet in the house with you can bring love and light to an otherwise lonely and bleak day.  

The Benefits of having an Emotional Support Animal

There are many ways in which an animal can enhance your quality of life when you have a chronic illness.

No Complications

Dealing with family and friends can be complicated when you’re dealing with a chronic illness. Depression is a frequent side effect, and it doesn’t drive you to be social. However, an animal offers unconditional love. You don’t need to worry about the animal offering unsolicited advice or feeling like you’re letting them down. They allow you to just be with them, no questions asked.

Get Social

As mentioned above, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to be social when you’re dealing with a chronic illness. A pet can drive you to be more social, if you are taking it for a walk you have an ice breaker to chat with other pet owners. Pet people love talking about their pets and meeting other animals. 

Get Active

Getting out with your animal means being more active. That can be a difficult prospect for someone with a chronic illness. Having a pet that needs to be taken out can help keep you active and even give you a reason to leave your house. Physical activity is also great for your mental health, as well as for your physical health.  

Improved Health

Owning an animal can reduce stress, increase the levels of the brain’s feel good chemicals, and lower blood pressure.

Routine

One excellent way to battle depression is by having a daily routine. An animal is one sure way to keep you on your toes. They wake you up in the morning because they’re hungry and they need out for the bathroom. Their natural routine can keep you on track with a healthy routine that will improve your mood.  

 A Companion

Animals are sensitive to our pain, and according to Fybromyalgia Today, this can make a big difference to sufferers in need of relief and companionship. Any chronic illness can leave you feeling isolated and subject to depression. People pull away from their family and friends and become more introverted. Having a pet means you’re never alone and that makes a huge difference.  

 Responsibility

Having an animal increases your focus positively, and gives you a new sense of importance and value. It can be a great reminder that you are capable.

 Physical Contact

As humans, we need physical contact. People feel better when they have regular physical contact. You may not have that interaction with humans regularly enough, but animals can provide you with the same effect. Sitting with a cat on your lap is soothing, and petting a dog lowers your heart rate.

 These benefits aside, there is still the responsibility of caring for another living thing, and only you can decide what type of pet is appropriate for you. 

It’s becoming increasingly more common for people to rely on pets as therapy animals. We have gotten used to seeing guide dogs for the blind, but dogs can also be used for the hearing impaired, those dealing with chronic pain illnesses, depression/anxiety, and many more health conditions. 

There has been a recent influx in a variety of pets being used for therapy, including ducks, goats, guinea pigs, and more. If you’ve ever thought about getting an animal for service or therapy, consider the varying types that are available to you.  It is also helpful to understand the differences between service animals, therapy animals and emotional support animals.

Pets in Service of Humans

Service Animals

Service animals are specially trained to work depending on the person’s disability.  They receive extensive expert training geared towards assisting the owner that they are to be matched with.  (Emotional support animals are not included in the definition of service animals.)  A service animal accompanies a disabled person at all times. Around 90% of people with a service animal have said that their animals have improved their quality of life. They provide assistance with life skills, as well as increase the person’s physical activity and involvement in the community. Every animal is matched to their owner’s needs after training. Before the owner can take their service animal home, they receive detailed instruction on the handling and care of their service animal.  Dogs are generally the preferred type of service animal.

The majority of service animals receive training for one of these health conditions: mobility assistance, medical response, emergency medical response, hearing impairment signals, and guide for visual impairment, autism assistance, and psychiatric assistance.

Therapy Animals

Therapy animals are also trained, but to a much different degree than service animals.  Therapy animals are trained to provide comfort, support, and affection to children and adults in need of emotional support, or for those in stressful situations. When dogs are used, they are typically more mature, with calm temperaments and enjoy physical affection. They are not easily excited, or skittish.  They are able to obey commands with reliability and behave appropriately in public places.  Therapy animals frequently visit hospices, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and group homes.

Therapy dogs are also being used to comfort people who have suffered losses after natural disasters. Therapy animals have also been found to reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone, in people. Additionally, they increase the levels of oxytocin and dopamine, the hormones associated with happiness and attachment.

 Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals do not receive specialized training, though in some cases they may be trained to call 911 when faced with an emergency situation. These animals are chosen due to their calming and gentle temperament. Emotional support animals can be of any size and any breed. As mentioned above, ducks, guinea pigs, and goats can be used.

The difference between therapy dogs and emotional support dogs is that therapy dogs work with groups of people outside of the home. Emotional support animals live within the home, and provide comfort for just one, or maybe two, people. US federal law allows people with psychiatric conditions and disabilities to live with their support animal, even if the housing they reside in prohibits pets.

Additionally, airlines have allowed a broad definition of emotional support animals, so that animals can fly with their owners. For the animal to fly, the owner must provide a recent letter from their doctor prescribing the animal for a specific mental or physical illness that limits at least one life activity. This letter must also be presented when applying for housing.

The options are great and the benefits even greater when you decide to bring an animal into your life.  No matter what type of animal you prefer or in what capacity, the support they can offer to suffers of chronic illness are extremely beneficial and worth exploring. 



Gwen, The Disabled Diva and her Goldendoodle Lilly



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