Your dog, cat, or other pet gives you love and companionship. But owning a pet also offers you other health benefits when you're living with breast cancer. Having an animal in your life can be good for your heart, mind, and body.
You can feel isolated when you have breast cancer. Fatigue or concerns about contagious illnesses may keep you from socializing. Pets ease feelings of loneliness. They're loyal and always available when you want to hang out. Your pet will "listen" when you need to talk about your cancer and keep your conversation private.
One study showed that people slept better with a dog in their bedroom, as long as the pet slept in its own bed. Breast cancer treatments like hormone therapy can cause insomnia. So can the stress of cancer. If your dog or cat sleeps nearby, it may help you rest.
Dogs need daily walks. Caring for one means you get regular exercise, which helps reduce fatigue due to breast cancer. Research also shows that women who've been treated for high-risk breast cancer lessen their risk of recurrence if they exercise regularly.
Pets help you cope with the strain of breast cancer by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. You can reap the benefits even if treatment-related muscle weakness or anemia makes it too hard to care for a cat or dog. One study showed that watching fish swim in a tank reduced stress and improved mood. The benefits increased with more fish.
People who spend time with a pet tend to be more open in cancer counseling, research shows. After hanging out with an animal, patients communicated better with their therapists. They also talked more freely about dealing with breast cancer.
People who have pets tend to have lower blood pressure than those with no furry friends. High blood pressure may increase your risk of getting breast cancer, especially if you're a woman past menopause. Some breast cancer meds also could raise blood pressure. A pet in your life may help you manage it.
Caring for a pet gives you a sense of focus and stability in your life. Breast cancer can make you feel as if you've lost control over your routine and your body. Your pet relies on you for food and shelter, adding structure and purpose to your day.
Dogs are super-sensitive sniffers. Some dogs sense when your blood sugar levels drop and can be trained to let you know by barking, licking you, or other behavior. It's rare, but a life-threatening drop in blood sugar is one possible side effect of trastuzumab (Herceptin), a hormonal therapy for metastatic breast cancer.
Research has found that people with pets tend to laugh more -- both at their animals' antics and spontaneously -- than others. Humor helps you cope with tough situations, like dealing with breast cancer. When you laugh, your brain releases hormones called endorphins that ease pain. Laughter also stimulates your circulation and helps your muscles relax, which eases symptoms of stress.
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