The Benefits of Having Pets When You Live with a Chronic Illness
I have been spending some time recently thinking about how I stay positive when living with epilepsy and one of the first things that sprung to my mind was having a pet.
Many studies have shown how animals can help with a variety of health conditions.
However, when we think of animals and people living with chronic health conditions, many people go straight to thinking about Service Animals.
While I do have a Registered Service Dog, today, I’m talking about regular pets. Every animal in my life, service animal or not, has played an important role in my health.
Here is what I see as being the benefits of pets when you have a chronic illness.
Benefit #1 – Unconditional Love: I know dogs are more obvious about this but cats, horses, guinea pigs and other pets also provide the unconditional love that is such a benefit when you are struggling with a chronic health condition every day. It’s great having a pet waiting for you when you get home, especially if you live alone and it stops me from feeling lonely sometimes as I talk away to my cat. Cuddles, doggy kisses, and an animal that is excited to see you can make your day. I got my first pet, Ferrari the Cat, when I was 17 years old and in the depth of my health struggles. As I laid on the couch exhausted from seizures and tests, he sat with me reminding me everything was going to always be okay.
Benefit #2 – Responsibility: Living with a pet means having the responsibility of getting up, feeding them, making sure they have water, cleaning up after them. For some of us who are either housebound or jobless due to epilepsy, having this sense of responsibility can provide meaning for our lives. In addition, getting up and moving around, such as taking the dog for a walk around the block can be a great thing for our bodies.
Benefit #3 – Socializing: Whether it’s in real life or online, people with pets tend to talk about them and bond over them. Most people will be able to say if they are a dog or a cat person and have an opinion about it, making it an easy way to start a conversation with someone and make new friends. If other people in your neighbourhood have a pet, it can also be nice to go on walks with them.
Benefit #4 – Mental Health: Studies have shown that petting an animal can make someone happier. Seriously! It can release dopamine, which is the chemical in your brain that makes you feel more positive. This can be a huge help for those of us struggling with mental health related to our epilepsy.
Benefit #5 – Self Care: Pets also remind us to look after ourselves. Running out of pet food means a trip to the shop or an online grocery order which will mean that you get essentials for yourself as well. Making sure that your dog gets out every day means that you also get out every day, supporting positive mental health and getting a bit of exercise. No matter how small the pet is, they all need something from us, which reminds us that we also need things and might need someone to look after us occasionally and support us asking for help. Animals are also brilliant at resting and I am trying to take some tips from my dog Waffles in this area, who will play for an hour or so, then take a nap for an hour.
While a pet may not be for everyone, there are many benefits to having one when you’re living with epilepsy.