There’s far more to owning a pet than providing a daily bowl of food. For many of us, pets are part of the family. They’re beings that we nurture and care for. For older people especially, a pet companion can be a life-changer. Nothing beats taking the dog for a brisk walk to get the circulation going. There’s also the chance for a chat with other pet lovers en route. Did you know that our pets can also be medically therapeutic? Read on to find out how, during periods of homecare, our furry friends really can help us to recover from illnesses and keep us calmer at the same time.
Meet Max, the Miracle Dog
A Springer Spaniel called Max is a classic example of how one man’s best friend was able to support thousands of others as a virtual therapy dog. 15 years ago, a road traffic accident changed the life of Max’s owner, Kerry. It left a once fit and healthy middle-aged man unable to walk and suffering from chronic neck and back pain. He sank into a deep depression. 2 years later, Kerry met Max. The meeting transformed his life. Max gave Kerry a reason to walk again and 12 months later he was climbing mountains and hiking. Kerry posted all the walks they took online and Max soon became an internet sensation.
Max has brought comfort to thousands of people, including older people and those receiving homecare, Kerry says. He’s had daily messages from people all over the world who share in the joy he brings. Among them are soldiers who’ve served in wars and medical staff working on the frontline during the pandemic.
They’ve all taken comfort and moments of peace by following Max and his adventures. Max embodies the contribution that animals make to human lives beyond ordinary companionship. He’s also helped raise 350,000 euros for good causes in the process.
Pets in Hospitals
In Ireland, hospitals do not let pets visit their owners unless they are service animals that have undergone rigorous training. There could be risks in allowing a “pet-free for all,” ranging from sanitary issues to potential injury or inconvenience to other patients.
It’s a controversial area. Hospitals in a few countries such as the USA have trialled pet visits under certain circumstances. The findings were similar to those that relate to patients who have pets and recover at home. They include:
- Lower stress levels and increased comfort
- Greater enthusiasm to get better and return home
- Being more receptive to treatment
- The opportunity for feelings of wellness and relief
There are therefore good reasons that hospitals and day centres in Ireland have chosen to allow trained therapy dogs for visits.
The Positive Benefits of Touch as Part of Homecare
Research shows that the companionship of a dog can have these positive effects:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels
- An increase in the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine
Touching and stroking dogs, cats or other animals can help us to stay calm and soothe us as well as ease anxiety and boost our mood. This can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. On top of this, pets can act as a distraction from pain.
Therapists might work with someone recovering from an illness by using a therapy dog to improve their physical fitness. Walking, grooming, and even throwing a ball can improve coordination, strength, and flexibility.
Going for walks with your dog can play a part in strengthening bones and the muscles that surround them. It also allows you to spend time in the sunlight that provides us with a source of vitamin D.
Sensory issues are often a feature for children with some forms of autism. Certain sensory activities can help them. These children grow accustomed to how things feel against their skin, and to particular odours or sounds.
Therapists have used both horses and dogs to participate in these activities. The children involved typically find it calming to work with animals. At the same time, animals have the ability to hold their attention.
Help with Rehab and Chronic Pain in Older People
There are some rehab programmes specially designed for stroke patients. They use horses to help with recovery. Those who’ve had strokes often begin riding with another person walking alongside them as well as another leading the horse.
Horseback riding is useful as it encourages stretching motions. These are particularly effective if one side of the body has become weaker. It assists in regaining balance and building up core strength.
Specially trained dogs can help those with Parkinson’s disease retain their independence. They’ll pick up items their owners have dropped or fetch others when asked. Some can even open and close doors, or turn lights on and off with their paws.
Others can sense when a person with Parkinson’s “freezes.” They’ll touch the foot to let the person keep walking.
A piece of recent research flagged up that the majority of Irish pet owners weren’t aware of some of the more profound health benefits of having a dog. These include an ability to detect the early signs of cancer as well as being able to alert owners to seizures.
An Unexpected Fishy Tale About Homecare
It’s not just furry animals that can help support us with our diseases. One study showed that looking after fish helped a group of teenagers manage their diabetes.
The group cared for their pet fish twice daily by checking water levels and feeding them. They also had to change the water in the fish tank once a week.
Those carrying out the study kept careful records of how the teenagers kept a check on their blood glucose levels. They found that this group did that with greater discipline than those who did not have fish to look after.
Pet Companions are More than Just Friends
Comfort Keepers understand the important part our pets can play in our lives. Our pets can help us stay fit, reduce loneliness and to recover from all sorts of illnesses and conditions.
If you or a loved one needs a helping hand to stay independent in order to carry on caring for themselves and their pets at home, get in touch with us now. Find out more about all our homecare services here.