By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
We tend not to think of pets as a natural remedy for what ails us, but I have found that pets, both in my personal life and the lives of my patients, to be nothing less than that.
They are indeed natural remedies. They work by healing with unconditional love.
I have often stopped in my busy tracks to give thanks for the blessing of a happy family life, and that includes the dogs who have enriched my life as well.
During a medical conference lecture several years ago, one of the doctors in the audience asked whether I had any experience on the healing benefits of companion animals. Although I couldn’t quantify the degree of benefit, I said that many patients indeed have told me over the years how comforting their pets have been to them and how they considered their animals a vital part of recovery. Some said they couldn’t wait to come back to their animals following surgery or hospitalization.
Medical research supports the healing benefits of companion animals. Specifically, they have been found to:
- Significantly increase longevity among people with coronary artery disease who have a heart attack.
- Reduce blood pressure.
- Enhance the opportunity to meet other people as well as permit people to be alone without being lonely.
How to Find a Compatible Pet
If you don’t have a pet but think you might like some four-legged companionship, here are some guidelines to help you.
1) Search for a compatible animal. Different breeds have different temperaments. Some are more passive, others more active. Some dogs bark. Some don’t. Some breeds shed more than others. Some breeds are more susceptible to certain disorders. Learn from books, the Internet, talking to breeders, or from knowledgeable friends.
2) If you find an appealing animal, try the following maneuver. Turn the animal gently and quickly on its back, belly up, in your cupped hands if it’s a puppy or kitten, or, if larger, on a table or the ground. Animals who respond quietly and friendly as you stroke their underside tend to be submissive and more trainable. Animals who squirm excessively, bite or claw at you, and try frantically to right themselves may have behavioral problems and a hyperactive nature, and be harder to train. If you’re considering an older pet from a shelter or rescue facility, such resistance could indicate physical pain or bad memories from past mistreatment. You may be dealing with health or behavioral issues.
3) Check out appearance. Does the animal seem hyperactive or dull and depressed? You want a balance. Look for a shiny hair coat and a lean body. A bony frame with a potbelly may indicate parasites and/or poor nutrition. Look in the mouth. A healthy exterior reflects inner health. Clear, bright eyes radiate intelligence and energy. A wrinkled or worried brow, snarling, or curled lips are behavioral warning signs. Pale gums may mean anemia or parasites, while red, inflamed tissue suggests gum disease. Look for a cooperative animal.
4) Before you make a purchase or acquisition have a veterinarian check out the animal.
5) For expert advice on how to care for your pet, look for a holistic veterinarian in your area. To read about pet health care, I suggest checking out a copy of my longtime writing colleague Martin Zucker’s books: The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs or The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats (2000). These practical books are based on interviews with dozens of holistic veterinarians and contain great how-to information.
- Beck AM, Meyers NM. Health enhancement and companion animal ownership. Annu Rev Public Health, 1996;17:247-57.
- Friedmann E, Thomas SA. Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). Am J Cardiol, 1995;76(17):1213-7.
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