My Dog is the Best Therapy for IPF

My Dog is the Best Therapy for IPF

younger than 30

For animal lovers out there, it won’t come as a surprise that having a dog has been a blessing since being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in early 2016. I often reflect on the timeline of when my dog “accidentally” became part of my life, shortly before my diagnosis, and then I think to myself that this hardly could have been an accident.

I often wonder if my dog was put in my life for the purpose of helping me cope with my IPF. She will never know the impact and won’t understand what she has done for me, but my dog has helped me cope with my disease every day and has been the best source of therapy for me in this fight against IPF.

There is an abundance of therapeutic options to help patients cope with their disease. You can seek professional counseling, submerge yourself in relaxation therapies, participate in different clinical trials, or use creative therapies as an outlet. What is often underestimated is how much animal therapy can benefit those living with chronic illness.

To those who don’t have a dog or who might underestimate their impact, here are some ways that my golden retriever has kept me going in some of my darkest moments of living with IPF:

  • She never tires of being with me. I understand how tiring it can be to support me at times. When I receive bad test results, or sometimes when I am trying to process hard information, I cry and ask rhetorical questions that simply cannot be answered. This leaves my caregivers in a helpless position, because they don’t have answers for me and they want to be able to fix things for me. This is not true for my dog; she will sit with me as I cry, no matter how long it takes me to get through how I feel. It doesn’t matter how many nights in a row I cry, or for how long, my dog never gets tired of being with me. Her goal in those moments is to provide comfort and companionship, and periodically, her idea of fixing how I am feeling is doing something silly that always makes me laugh. I hope she never loses her desire to make me laugh — it helps so much.
  • She needs physical activity and exercise. For others living with IPF, you understand the importance of remaining physically active and participating in pulmonary rehabilitation programs. If I didn’t have my dog and know that she needs exercise, I would be inclined to avoid physical activity, which is not good for my health. Depending on how I am feeling, the physical exercise might be different, and it may not include walking her, but I will still pack up my oxygen concentrator to go outside and throw the ball around for her. Even this brief physical activity is better than nothing when it comes to keeping my lungs healthy. And if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have an incentive to do this much.
  • She provides a source of companionship. Having my dog means that I never come home to an empty house. She’s always there to welcome me home and encourage me to play with her, and her presence makes me feel like I am never alone. I may get less sleep than I would if she wasn’t around, because she sleeps right beside me with her head on the next pillow, but I wouldn’t change that for anything. She is a constant source of companionship for me, and her presence makes me feel happy and comforted.
  • She gives me a reason to keep fighting. My dog always makes me laugh and she doesn’t even know it. Since she is still a puppy, she wants to play and chase everything, and each season feels completely new for her. It’s like she experiences everything for the first time, and her excitement is contagious. When I feel like I have no energy or my emotional mood is impacting how I feel physically, she helps me remember that I have to get up and embrace the day. I also have to do this because she needs me to eat, to go outside, and to play. I suppose this is similar to how parents with IPF might feel; their children give them strength and a reason to keep fighting, and this is true for my dog. I never want her to be without me and, therefore, I will do whatever I have to in order to keep living.

I could write many other reasons why my dog is my best source of therapy. I’d love to hear about your pets and how they’ve been helpful throughout your journey with chronic illness.

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Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

9 comments

  1. Gloria Roden says:

    My dog & my cat are a great source of company & support for me since i was diagnosed with IPF in March of 2017. But our routine has changed as a result of the disease. I can’t walk my dog lugging an oxygen concentrator so I had to hire a dog walker. My dog will not chase a ball & looks forward to a walk. I miss taking those walks with him so much. On a positive note, our new routine is getting up in the morning &relaxing together after breakfast. No more rushing off to work. But the thing I miss the most is doing pet therapy. We used to visit patients in the hospital, kids in schools & libraries. I can’t handle my dog & a heavy oxygen concentraror. He is such a great therapy dog. Now he is giving me therapy with such utter devotion. He is always with me & at night he & my kitty sit with me & get along so good. My little family. They are the reason I want to live.

  2. Stephanie Morgan-Black says:

    Hi,I always enjoy reading your column as my partner of 25 years is suffering with IPF. He is 65 years old – waay older than you but we can relate to many of your concerns and observations. I am a bit concerned that your dog sleeps in the same room as you – we have learned in PF rehab that pet dander is quite detrimental to lung health. We also have a dog but we have banned him from the bedroom and bought an air purifier. I get you tho- the love of your pet is likely making your life a lot more enjoyable and liveable. Just thought I’d share that tidbit in case you hadn’t heard about the implications of pet dander and lung health. I hasten to add, I am no expert and your doctor is the best resouce obvs.I think you are awesome, courageous and brave and I love your spirit! Good luck!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Thank you so much Stephanie for your comment, and thoughtful sharing of a potential concern. I actually haven’t asked about this, but I will when I see my respirologist this week, thank you for bringing this up. My hope is that he will have some suggestions that I can try so that my dog can still stay with me at nighttime, if in fact it is a concern for my lungs. She brings me so much comfort, but I know the importance and priority has to be protecting my lungs at this time. Thank you again and I’ll look into this for sure. Goodluck to your husband, and I hope you both have a wonderful holiday season and all the best in 2018!

  3. Katie Broach says:

    I am approaching 80 and in my fifth year with IPF. I recently got a rescue cat. It is hard to say who rescued whom. She is a delight, and since I live alone, she is another heart beating in our little apartment. I wondered what my pulmonologist would say, but I needn’t have worried. He repeated what he always tells me: LIVE YOUR LIFE. I love it! Since I am a fall risk, my children feared she would get under foot and make me fall. Then I saw a wonderful saying, “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you FLY?” If laughter is truly the best medicine, Pippin supplies plenty of that! This disease causes such lethargy and my cat is always ready to join me in a nap. Often she starts w/o me! Anytime I approach the kitchen, she gives me her little trill sound for food, and I never dine alone. Her antics off set any damage her dander might do. I am far more active because of exercising my tendency-to-gain-weight tuxedo cat. I very recently had a brain bleed, and I’m sure my zest for life with Pip prompted me to seek immediate help so that i returned home five days later with no loss, intact to play another day.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Katie,

      Thank you so much for reading my columns and sharing your story. I can definitely relate to the sentiment you shared about ‘who rescued whom’. Isn’t it amazing what animals can do for our emotional and mental healing? I’m so glad to hear your pulmonologist was encouraging of your new furry friend, and that he encourages you to live your life. What a wise Doctor! Your cat’s name, Pippin, is also beautiful and it sounds like you have a special bond….making you laugh is so important! I just love this story, thank you again for sharing. Since you shared a couple of quotes in your story (which I loved), I wanted to share one about ‘play’ when it comes to animals, people/friends and life. It is one of my favourites: “it is a happy talent to know how to play”. May you play for years yet to come Katie. Thanks for sharing and best wishes 🙂

      Charlene

      • Katie Broach says:

        Charlene, my neighbor got a darling little lap dog from a puppy mill where abuse was determined. Her little dog never did learn to play, and she felt i was the saddest thing. I’ve known farm kids who say they don’t remember ever playing. So sad. Pip and I play most every day. My granddaughter also has a tuxedo cat and “Kitty” actually plays fetch; fetches the ball and brings it back. We’ve not accomplished that yet! But I saw a video and know it is true. Best of luck to you and your fur baby.

        • Charlene Marshall says:

          Hi Katie, thank you so much for sharing your comments with us. It is always so sad to hear of animals who come from unloving homes as I think they are the most remarkable creatures! Most animals will love you unconditionally and really expect that same love in return. So wonderful to hear that you and Pip play daily, what a wonderfully happy kitty she must be! Best wishes to you and your fur baby as well 🙂

          Cheers,
          Charlene

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Sagar,

      Thank you for reading my column and sharing your question. It is a good one!

      I think many people get different answers about this, as I’ve asked my pulmonologist and she said having my dog at home was fine. I have however, heard from others that their doctors advise not to have pets so I’m not sure the answer for this is definitive and the same for everyone. Probably best to ask your doctor directly what his or her thoughts are, based on your disease and lungs.

      Take care,
      Charlene

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