What are therapy dogs and how can they help those with fibromyalgia?

A therapy dog is a dog that is trained to provide affection, comfort, and support to people, especially those who suffer from physical or mental illnesses. They visit a variety of settings, including retirement or nursing homes, schools, hospice homes, and hospitals, but therapy dogs are also pets used directly by their owners for emotional support.

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs who are trained to perform specific tasks on behalf of their owners. Service dogs receive rigorously, and specialist task-oriented training aimed specifically at helping their owners cope with disabilities. Therapy dogs on the other hand provide attention and comfort and have a therapeutic benefit to those who face difficult health challenges.

Dogs are incredibly intelligent animals. As pain is one of the major symptoms of fibromyalgia and CRPS, this can have an impact on mobility. If someone is in pain from fibromyalgia or CRPS and finds it hard to walk, service dogs will be there to steady them when needed. They can also scan the body to see which parts are the coldest and when it is nap or bedtime they will cuddle into you on that part of the body to keep you warm.

Research has shown that patients diagnosed with a range of issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease, benefit from their interaction with therapy dogs and other companion animals. The presence of dogs and indeed other animals can help to relieve stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, boost endorphins, reduce heart and breathing rate, and generally make us feel more positive.

Golden retrievers, poodles, and Labradors are commonly used as therapy dogs, due to their loving nature, and high levels of intelligence, however, any friendly breed of dog can be a therapy dog with a little bit of training.

Fibromyalgia is difficult to manage. Whilst there are some effective treatment strategies, most people live with chronic symptoms and look for non-conventional treatments for some relief. A recent study, “Better Together”, by the Mayo Clinic in America, showed therapy animals could be an evidence-based treatment option, and health care professionals should strongly consider using animal-assisted activity in the care of their patients with fibromyalgia. People who interacted with therapy dogs saw their oxytocin levels increase significantly, while their heart rates decreased.

Whether you suffer from CRPS, chronic pain, or fibromyalgia, therapy dogs can help make life that little bit easier.

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