I get it, not everyone is a “cat person.” If that is the case for you though, I’m confident you just haven’t met the right feline yet. The good news is in general, animals can promote healing for humans.
Especially for those of us who live alone, therapy pets can be crucial in managing various illnesses and challenges, thus the popularity of emotional support animals and service dogs. However what is often not discussed is the healing power pets can offer folks in the chronic illness community, who are dealing with pain and discomfort in general – including migraine.
For me personally, cats like my Ernie, quickly make me feel safer, calmer, and most essential, less alone before, during, and after a migraine attack. And before I dive deeper into the benefits of having a cat, everyone should know that Ernie, and many other animals are hypoallergenic!
BEFORE AN ATTACK
Service Dogs For Migraine
Did you know dogs and other animals can use their skills to warn us of a migraine attack before it even comes? While there are many triggers that can bring on migraines, there are also many characteristics we may experience before a migraine begins known as prodrome, which is the first stage of a migraine.
“Prodrome symptoms occur in about one in three migraine sufferers, with symptoms usually occurring about 12 to 24 hours before the painful part of the migraine,” explains Dr. Marcus. Common prodrome symptoms include irritability, hyperactivity, food craving, diarrhea, neck pain, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, yawning, and frequent urination. I myself often experience the prodrome stage with many of these characteristics.
Not only knowing this information is helpful for us to prepare, but using some medications and non-medicinal methods like yoga and relaxation during the prodrome stage can help minimize the strength and intensity of a migraine attack.
Outside of ourselves though, this is where an animal can also be of use. Because some service dogs work by monitoring people’s health conditions for changes, migraine alert dogs can tell owners when they sense a migraine attack is coming – similarly to how a service dog can alert someone with epilepsy that a seizure is about to occur.
DURING AN ATTACK
The Healing Power Of Cats
One word, purr. Not only does purring release endorphins for cats, it does for humans as well. Interesting enough, purring often falls between 25 and 140 Hz. Many have cited that this frequency range has helped to heal broken bones, joints, and wounds and so it makes sense to hear stories of cats helping folks during a migraine attack when they place their head close to their animal friend.
Another reason I’m thankful to have Ernie during an attack is he too thrives in sleeping and cuddling in a pitch black room for countless hours (and I can’t help feel he also enjoys my migraine playlist). In comparison to my partner, who is so selfless when it comes to my migraines, I don’t have to worry about the amount of time Ernie spends cuddling with me in the dark.
My cat is also a fabulous distraction during a migraine attack, not to mention anxiety and panic attacks too! His warm, soft body, and familiar purr create a different focus outside of the immense pain I may be dealing with at any given moment.
Additionally, I’m highly confident Ernie knows when I’m sick or upset, and will usually come check up on me. There have been many examples where I’ve been crying, throwing up, or in bed for days sick when Ernie was there to check-in. While there is data regarding pets detecting changes in smells which happens when our hormones fluctuate or we are sick, cats can also sense sadness through our body language and facial expressions.
BEYOND MIGRAINE ATTACKS
Can cats help with anxiety and stress? Majorly!
While stress can be a common migraine trigger, it also happens that pets have been proven to lower stress levels. Many studies have found that petting a cat or dog for as little as 10 minutes could lower cortisol, a stress hormone, which in turn can lower our blood pressure. This is why cat owners have 40% less risk of a heart attack than non-cat owners. Further, according to the journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, dog ownership was associated with a, “33 percent lower risk of death among heart attack survivors who live alone.”
Another trigger, poor sleep, can also be combatted from having a cat. A study from the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine was able to confirm that 41 percent of the people indicated that they slept better because of their pet, while only 20 percent said that it led to disturbances.
Having an animal by my side when I’m experiencing any pain or discomfort always makes me feel better. Regardless though, I will always enjoy coming home to Ernie, or any animal for that matter. Animals make life happier, healthier, and best yet, filled with love.
The healing powers of cats and other animals feel pretty endless! According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership! HABRI notes mental health benefits of having a pet include a decrease in stress, help in managing depression, a boost in overall well being, and a reducement in loneliness.
Luckily there are organizations like Paws NY that make it their mission to help make pet ownership possible for as many as possible. Their main mission is to provide services to vulnerable New Yorkers who need support caring for their pets due to physical and financial obstacles they face, with an emphasis on low-income older adults and individuals living with illness or disability. They accomplish this through their Housecall Program. Through this fantastic program, PAWS NY volunteers provide on-site home visits to our clients where they help with dog walking, litter maintenance, medication administration, and provision of food and water.
They also have a Foster and Emergency Care Program, a Veterinary Care Program, a pet pantry, and more due to their fabulous fundraising efforts and warm community of volunteers and advocates. Follow their journey on Instagram here!
Finally, because there is of course positive, mood boosting research on watching adorable cat videos, here is one of my favorites below!