The Power of Pets

I’ve never been much of a cat person, and for years, I wasn’t fond of many dogs, either. But my feelings about animals changed when my husband and daughter brought home a daschund 14 years ago. Almost immediately, Hershey melted my heart and became a beloved member of our family.

According to WebMd, having a pet can lower your blood pressure, lessen your anxiety and boost your immunity. But let’s be honest: they can also be demanding, and if you live by the spoon theory, pet ownership can leave you with an empty silverware drawer. I also have two turtles who are much easier to care for, but they’re not nearly as snuggly or comforting as Hershey.

Here are some ways he helps me cope with my IBS-C.

Unconditional love

There’s no better feeling than to know someone is waiting for you when you get home, or to just be there with you when IBS keeps you at home.

I’m convinced Hershey knows when I’m not feeling well, and it’s during those times that his mere presence provides comfort and calmness.

Daschunds are known to love burrowing – especially under blankets, which makes them the perfect snugglers. I call Hershey my built-in heating pad – his favorite spot is right next to my belly and under the covers, which is extremely soothing when I’m in the middle of an IBS flare. He instinctively knows when it’s time to settle down vs. time to play. Our daily routine is one of the things I cherish most. Knowing that he wants nothing more than love in return makes me stop and appreciate the gift of unconditional love that exists between us.

Companionship

Because of my IBS, I am at home more often than I’d like to be. Sometimes I have to cancel plans at the last minute. And now that my kids are in college, I don’t have nearly as many visitors as I used to. Hershey eases my loneliness during those times when I’m by myself.

Responsibility

Even when I’m feeling horrible, I still have to get up and feed my dog, make sure he has water and give him treats so he’ll stop panting at the cupboard door.

When dealing with the mental health aspect of a chronic illness, having to take care of another living thing can serve to distract IBS sufferers from the pain and focus on the simple things.

Humor

On one of my worst days at work recently, I walked in the front door to find Hershey had somehow managed to scale to the top of his crate and onto the kitchen table. How a short little daschund could do this is beyond me (the true meaning of home entertainment!), but seeing the predicament he’d gotten himself into made me temporarily forget my troubles and have a good laugh.

Socializing

I live in a neighborhood where everyone pretty much keeps to themselves, but when the dogs come out for their evening walk, the neighbors can’t help but become more social.

Kids always want to stop and pet dogs, and it’s a good way to share common experiences. Having Hershey provides me with a social outlet that I wouldn’t otherwise have. He gives me an easy way to start a conversation and to bond with other dog owners, and the friendliness is contagious.

Exercise

When my insides are bursting and I can’t leave the house, it’s hard to find way to exercise. But even in the worst flares, Hershey forces me to keep moving. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes a day, getting some fresh air and exercise provides both of us with health benefits. Walking my dog every day, even if it’s just to the end of the cul-de-sac and back, also means that I’ll get out every day, which supports positive mental health.

Rest

Now that he’s getting older, Hershey spends more of his time in his bed and in front of the fireplace. He doesn’t feel an ounce of guilt for lounging around, and when he sleeps, he does it wholeheartedly.

Dogs are pros at resting when they need to, and I think we can all take some lessons from our pets in this area, too. Hershey still likes to chase squirrels and beg for treats, and when he’s worn himself out, he’ll take himself off to bed and rest up until he feels like playing again. I try to take a page out of Hershey’s book and take the time to prioritize resting when I need to, so I can recharge and refuel for a new day.

Pet ownership may not be for everyone who lives with a chronic illness, but I can’t say enough about the power of Hershey’s comfort when I’ve been in pain. I can say firsthand that even though he’s a handful, having a pet can make the bad days seem better. And I can never imagine giving him up.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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