Why Pets Are Such Powerful Healers

healing pets

Being a pet owner is an adventure. How you grow along with and care for your pet can truly change you as a person and shift things within you that you never realized needed a little extra TLC. Just being around animals that aren’t actually your pets not only helps to lower your blood pressure, but enables you connect with another living thing in a very heart-opening way — all without using a word.

Yet, as we share our lives with animals and pets, we may not realize the depth of the healing that’s occurring during the course of our connection with them both physically and emotionally — whether it’s for a few moments or throughout the life of a pet.

The Science Aspects of Healing with Pets

Despite the fact that the sheer cuteness of some pets instantly lifts your heart, there are a few specific science-based ways pets have been shown to increase the quality and rate of human healing.

According to the Mayo Clinic article called Pet therapy: Man’s best friend as healer, animal assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems, including:

  • Children with dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

Even visits as short as 15 minutes can help patients shift their focus and attention away from pain, frustration and stress and put a smile on their face. And a positive attitude goes a long way towards improving the rate of healing. Interaction with pets can provide social support, especially in institutional environments,  and the exchange between pet and human  naturally increase a person’s level of oxytocin — an important part of healing. Here’s why…

Oxytocin has some powerful effects for humans regarding the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal and also grow new cells. Increased levels of oxytocin establishes an environment within our own bodies and sets the stage for improving our health, according to a blog entry featured on NPR titled: Pet Therapy: How Animals and Humans Heal Each Other.

Pet therapy is also being used at universities and as part of community programs to help people deal with anxiety and stress. In fact, the Coloradoan got some great photos of dogs visiting campus this week to help students manage stress while studying for finals.

This photo is courtesy of CSU and their story on how dogs can help with stress during finals.

This photo is courtesy of CSU and their story on how dogs can help with stress during finals.

The Not-So-Obvious Healing Benefits and Lessons of Pets 

Pets try our patience and show us our limits, as well as our capacity for unconditional love. They also bring so much joy to the world by simply being themselves, and allowing you to do the same without judging you.

Their ability to connect despite a language barrier shows us that unconditional love is more than a concept, it’s working in real-time, all the time. Being in service in this way allows humans to know, without a doubt, they are loved and cared for by something, somewhere, even through the most challenging days and circumstances.

One of the reasons I took over the Tails of Fort Collins blog was because throughout my time in Colorado, animals have been a very big part of my own self growth. When I was a pet sitter for a local business and working at the Larimer Humane Society in WildKind (simultaneously) my personal life and career was in the midst of a huge transition. Things were anything but clear. Spending time with animals was “one of my many jobs” but once I showed up at the shelter or a client’s home, all of my confusion melted away. The animals were my focus and connecting with them was my joy. Nothing else was needed in that moment.

I’ve also had a very heart opening experience with my own cat, Monty. He was my very first “real deal” pet, as I mentioned in my last post. I adopted him during this same transitional point in my life. Having never owned a kitten or cat before, we learned together about what worked and didn’t work for us. And through the process, I learned a lot about going with the flow and unconditional love.

Monty caught the mouse that was living behind my stove for a better part of a year (after many hours of watching the stove and planning his attack), and I learned how to be OK with him barfing on my bed once and a while. I figured out his favorite ways to be pet, and he jumps on my chest every morning to say hello while giving and receiving some snuggly love. He also let’s me know when I need to slow down and take a break by distracting me with some “drive-bys”, or talking to me just because he feels like it (that’s part of his Siamese mix heritage). But this can be the case with animals of all shapes and sizes, not just dogs and cats. Horses, reptiles, rodents, birds — all each type of pet offers unique lessons and healing insights that turn into showing people how to live life a little differently.

The best part about animals and pets, is that they show up as is, faults, wounds and pure love, ready to share and help. In many ways they are always in service to others, whether they are trained that way professionally or not. It’s a selfless gift that lives on through the connections we make with them and through each other, and a great thing to also celebrate this holiday season.

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