If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you know firsthand how pets can be a source of comfort. Their loyalty and unconditional love work wonders, especially for those of us suffering from fibromyalgia.
Pets can be especially comforting when our fibromyalgia causes us to lose our job, important relationships, or the ability to do the things we used to enjoy. Caring for a pet helps us to focus on someone other than ourselves. We need to walk them, bathe them, feed them, and clean up after them. But we also get to enjoy snuggles with them.
Pets have a built-in sensitivity to our pain and sadness. They can crawl up onto our lap or lie beside us in bed and help us to feel comforted. Studies have shown that spending even a short amount of time with a pet can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain.
In one such study published in the journal Pain Medicine, researchers added a trained 40-pound Wheaten terrier therapy dog to a chronic pain waiting area. When fibromyalgia patients were waiting for their doctor or therapy appointments, they were given a choice to either spend time in a traditional waiting room with a television and magazines or go to a different room with the therapy dog.
People were asked to rate their symptoms before going to either waiting area, and again after spending just 15 minutes there. The results are likely not a surprise to those of us with pets.
For this project, 84 people with fibromyalgia spent time with the dog and 49 waited in the traditional waiting room. The conclusions researchers came to were that:
- Spending time in the regular waiting room didn’t make symptoms substantially better or worse.
- Spending time with the therapy dog significantly reduced levels of pain, anxiety, and distress.
Pain was rated using a pain scale rating from zero for no pain to 10 for excruciating pain. The study looked for a drop in pain severity of at least two points on this scale to represent what’s referred to as “clinically meaningful pain relief.”
Clinically meaningful pain relief occurred for one in three people meeting with the therapy dog (34 percent of people) and only 4 percent of people waiting with the television and magazines. Those are amazing statistics! Spending time with the therapy dog was also shown to improve people’s moods, with absolutely no change in the patients in the regular waiting room.
Who would have thought that just spending a little time with a dog is all we need to do to make our fibromyalgia symptoms lessen?
What can those of us with fibromyalgia learn from this study? If you have a dog or even a cat at home and have thought, “I feel so much better and much less stressed when I spend some time with my pet,” you’ve just validated this study. People with a pet dog, cat, or any pet, really, often find time with their pets to be soothing. It’s more than just a distraction — it can truly help you feel better.
If you don’t have a pet, perhaps you might consider volunteering at a local animal shelter. Shelters are often looking for volunteers to walk dogs or cats. Just think, you could get a healthy dose of pet time without the added daily responsibilities of pet ownership. Just a thought.
Do you have a pet? How do you feel that he or she has improved your quality of life while living with FM?
Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.