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The Medicinal Properties of Pets; Little Angels in Our Midst

By Linda Faris, DVM, CVA

A prescription for human wellness: Cuddle a Critter and Call Me in the Morning


The human-animal bond has been a hot topic at veterinary meetings and pet groups in recent years.  More and more evidence is being gathered and many studies have already concluded that interaction between humans and animals can help people heal.  In his book, Kindred Spirits, author Allen Schoen, DVM, proposes that the human-animal bond can improve pet owners' physical and mental health.  Studies have proven that pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a diminished risk of heart attack.  It is an overwhelming medical reality that love is one of the most important ingredients in a protocol for healing and recovery.  A person's happiness is often directly related to the quality of their relationships with other living creatures.  In this day and age, healthy relationships can be elusive.  Loneliness is an epidemic and anyone can experience it, especially the elderly and chronically ill.  Being lonely stresses the immune system and causes a myriad of disease symptoms.   The affection and companionship that pets provide simply by being near can help people overcome the pain of loneliness and separation.   They can satisfy our undeniable need to touch and to be touched.  Having a pet can enhance or restore a person's self esteem and purpose for living.  It gives them a sense of being cared for and caring in return.  Pets are one of the most reliable sources of unconditional love in this modern world.  They encourage social contact with other people who are interested in animals and they are a stimulus for healthy exercise.  For people who are isolated in places where security is not certain, they also can provide protection and decrease fearful feelings.  In her book, Pack of Two, Caroline Knapp explores the intricate bond between people and dogs.  This story "illuminates beautifully how the dog's unconditional love filled a gaping hole in Knapp's emotional life." Publishers Weekly


Even people who have been hospitalized or placed in nursing homes can have opportunities to interact with pets.  Health professionals have started to recognize the fact that pets do more than pills for the elderly.  Patients in hospitals or nursing homes who have regular visits from their pets have been shown to be more receptive to treatment.  Research has established that even after a heart attack, pet owners are more likely than other coronary patients to be alive a year later.  Human-animal bond groups have formed in many communities.  These groups provide trained volunteers and therapy pets to make visits to people who do not or cannot have pets of their own.  Therapy pets are specially trained animals that have been tested for temperament and personality.  They are commonly taken into hospital wards, orphanages, nursing homes and prisons as a part of treatment and rehabilitation programs.  Touching and playing with pets gives people a feeling of intimacy which is important for human existence.  In prisons, the pet programs have been a magical ingredient to bring about long-term changes in attitudes and behavior.  By caring for pets, prisoners learn, sometimes for the first time in their lives, what it feels like to give and receive affection.

It's Not Just Anecdotal Anymore; A cuddle a day keeps the doctor away.

Might it also be true that a cuddle a day keeps the veterinarian away?

We live on a two way street.  These creatures that we call pets are a gift to the human race.  They are our friends, our healers, and sometimes our saviors.  But they need us as much as we need them.  They need touch, love, and training in addition to clean food and fresh water.  They need a warm, safe, loving environment where they feel appreciated and adored.  They need medical attention and grooming.  Remember, they are also affected when a beloved pet pal or human family member leaves the home or passes away.  I've treated pets that were ill due to stress in a household and I've seen pets die of grief and loneliness.  In times when they are suffering, seek help and guidance as to what solutions will be best for them.  

The holistic alternatives that you choose for yourself can be applied to animals.  At my practice in Overland Park, I perform acupuncture and prescribe Chinese herbs in addition to doing conventional treatments.  Holistic medicine recognizes that body, mind and spirit cannot be separated.  These guidelines apply to pets as well as people.  Integrating complementary veterinary alternatives involves more "hands on" time than conventional medicine requires.  At least an hour is scheduled for an initial consultation and evaluation of a new case.  The patient history is explored in depth.  Detailed questions are asked about environment, diet, medical history, and the emotional factors that affect the pets and the people who make up a household.   Frequently, the health of an animal is affected by the health of the caregiver, and vice versa.  My prescriptions often include physical affection or massage and special activities and treats.  Consider the alternatives when you make health care decisions for the little angels in our midst.