Living with a chronic health condition, such as lung disease, can be physically debilitating. For some people, their lung disease inhibits them from enjoying their daily activities. Sometimes people might even feel lonely, angry or afraid.
However, with some lifestyle modifications, such as healthy eating habits and exercise, living your life is possible.
Because animals are used to help people in a variety of ways, the Lung Institute wanted to take a look at the benefits of animal-assisted therapy and service animals for lung disease.
What are service animals?
Service animals assist people with disabilities through various life activities, including picking up items off the floor, balancing people, turning lights on and off, alerting a person with epilepsy that a seizure is coming and guiding people with visual impairments.
Depending on the services needed, there are many different types of organizations which train service animals.
What is animal-assisted therapy?
Animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy is used in many healthcare facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Pet therapy is a guided, structured interaction between a person and a trained animal, and it is used to help a patient recover from or cope with a health problem or mental health disorder.
Only animals that meet the stringent screening criteria can be used, such as dogs, cats and even horses. However, the most commonly used animals are dogs and cats.
How does animal assisted-therapy help?
According to the Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems, helping people achieve improved emotional and physical health. Some of the benefits include the following:
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved balance
- Decrease in heart rate
- Improved outward focus
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increase in mental stimulation
Service animals for lung disease?
Walking short distances, cleaning and performing other daily tasks can be difficult for people with lung disease. If you’re on supplemental oxygen, toting your oxygen tank with you wherever you go can be challenging, too.
In the words of pulmonologist James Burrows, MD, “the benefit of a service dog carrying oxygen for the COPD patient cannot be overemphasized, as the weight is an absolute impediment to activity.”
However, service dogs can also be trained to help patients with COPD by turning on lights, picking up dropped keys and other activities. T
he benefits of taking the service dog on a walk can help keep a patient with lung disease active as well as increase exercise tolerance. Having a service dog can also ease stress and anxiety.
What are the risks of animal-assisted therapy or having a service animal?
The biggest risk is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that have pet therapy available have strict rules to ensure that the animals are very clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.
However, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t received a single report of infection from animal-assisted therapy to date.
For a person with allergies to animal dander, participating in animal-assisted therapy or having a service animal might not be the best choice.
Frequent grooming can help reduce shedding and dry skin, and keeping the animal out of your bedroom can help reduce allergens where you sleep.
However, because your physician knows your health situation the best, it is very important to talk with your doctor before participating in animal-assisted therapy or before applying for a service dog.
Trying alternative treatment options and utilizing various assistive services such as service animals can benefit people with lung disease.
Always consult your doctor on finding a treatment plan that works best for you.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.