Most pet owners will tell you how their furry family members provide companionship, unconditional love and joy. For those with chronic pain, pets can also provide comfort and even help with pain management.


How Pets Can Ease Pain

From Therapy Dogs in Cancer Care_photo courtesy of Judith Kelly

From Therapy Dogs in Cancer Care. Photo courtesy of Judith Kelly.

Research has shown that pets can be pain relievers. Clinical trials prove that therapy dogs can reduce pain in children and adults. Elaine Lust, MD, and associates monitored medication usage in adults aged 24 to 60 years living at a rehabilitation facility for patients with brain or spinal cord injuries, degenerative diseases or severe physical disabilities (Lust et al., 2007). Patients noted that the facility’s therapy dog – 18-month old collie Neil – gave them a positive distraction from their own problems and worries. In fact, the amount of painkillers patients used dropped by 48 percent after Neil the Collie joined the facility.

Real Life Story

Jodi Tuckett learned first-hand that a furry pooch with a wagging tail can be a great pain reliever when you have a serious chronic pain condition.

“My life was turned upside down when I was T-boned by a dump truck. They said I was lucky to be alive. I suffered a skull fracture and brain injury, broken neck, broken collarbone and broken arm. I was alive – but I wasn’t convinced about how lucky I was.

“After initial treatments, I spent two months in the hospital doing intense rehab and then moved home with my parents for a year. At 26 years old, I resented feeling parented, and decided to move out of their house. I was still doing intensive rehab, but I was struggling with all of the losses in my life, and living with my parents put all those losses in my face every day.

“After a month, I discovered how terribly lonely it really is when all you have to think about is your injuries, your pain and what you can’t do. I decided to get involved with a rescue group and foster a cattle dog named Suzy, who has given me a purpose. Having a little mangy mutt to look after shifted my focus away from me, my pain and my therapy team. She helps me when my neck, back and hips are hurting. I take her for a walk. Moving and keeping my joints loosened up makes me feel better. Suzy takes me out – out of the house, out of myself and out of my pain.”

pet sidebar 2Caring for Your Pet Can Change Your Focus

As Jodi states, pets can give you a purpose and force you take care of their needs over your own. Regardless of how miserable you might feel, dogs still need to go out, eat and play. In fact, distraction techniques are commonly used to reduce a wide range of chronic pain symptoms (van der Hulst et al, 2010). The idea behind distraction is that the brain can only focus on so many things at a time. Dogs don’t cure pain or make anyone pain-free, but focusing on their needs can distract you from chronic pain and help control your reaction to pain.

What We Can Learn From Our Pets

Some behaviors that come naturally to dogs and cats could also help people with chronic pain. Here are a few reminders:

– Stretching is important
– Maintain a healthy weight
– Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep
– Take pleasure in the little things life offers

book-cover-sidebar-therapy-dogLearn more at Fit As Fido, Dr. Dawn Marcus’s website. There you’ll find several books she has written about the power of wagging tails. This article adapted excerpts from The Power of Waggin Tails: A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy and Healing.

Do you have a pet that has helped you cope with your pain? If so, please comment below.