Pet Therapy and COPD

The Pros and Cons of Pet Therapy for COPD Patients

Pet Therapy
Get into the Zen of Pet Therapy. Photo courtesy of, user Miguel Vandijk
Whether you enjoy sitting in your easy chair with Fido at your feet or simply gazing for hours at the underwater adventures of your favorite fish, if you are a pet owner, you undoubtedly understand that there is nothing like pet therapy to mend a broken heart and soothe a weary soul.

Pet therapy, or animal assisted therapy, involves the use of furry animals, fish, or other non-human creatures as alternative treatment for a variety of diseases and illnesses.

Nursing homes, hospitals, hospices and rehabilitation centers are among the many facilities that now incorporate pet therapy into their services.

While the use of pet therapy for COPD has not yet been established, there are some conclusions that we can draw from other types of research which has focused on the chronically and mentally ill, the elderly and persons who are disabled.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

Historically, pet therapy was first used as an adjunct to treatment for the mentally ill, but it did not take long before its benefits were recognized in the field of medicine and physical disease. In fact, studies have shown a more rapid reduction of symptoms of many diseases when animals are implemented in the therapeutic process. Learn more about COPD symptoms.

Is pet therapy or owning a pet something you would like to incorporate into your COPD treatment? Take a look at what some of the literature is saying about its potential benefits:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety.
  • May help lower blood pressure, if only temporarily.
  • Reduces loneliness.
  • May enhance the will to live for some patients.
  • Decreases depression and improves perception of quality of life.
  • May improve survival rates in some patients.
  • May enhance mood and improve social interaction.
  • May give patients a reason to hang on.
  • May provide a distraction to pain and the difficulties and monotony of treatment.

In addition to the many benefits of pet ownership, a dog will also provide you with a daily exercise partner. Remember, exercise is vitally important if you have COPD. A daily walk with your best friend will improve your exercise tolerance, reduce your shortness of breath, increase your self esteem and elevate your mood. What more can you ask for?

Read more about exercise basics for COPD patients.

Potential Problems With Pet Therapy

While pets may provide companionship, affection, social interaction and stimulation for some patients, not every pet is a good match for every person. In fact, the wrong pet can become an even greater source of stress and anxiety.

When deciding if pet therapy is for you, keep in mind the following:

  • Choose a pet that suits your temperament. If you are quiet with little energy, an older pet may be a better choice than a younger one.
  • Allergies to pet dander could aggravate COPD symptoms. Consider animals with less fur and shorter hair. It's also best to keep them well-groomed and vacuum your carpet and furniture frequently. Read more about ways to improve your indoor air.
  • Excessive barking or meowing can be very annoying. Consider this when choosing a pet.
  • A well-trained animal is less costly, more enjoyable and easier to live with. Choosing an animal that has not been properly trained may create more havoc in an already stressful life.
  • Size does matter when it comes to pets. Too large and it can knock you over; too small and you may trip over it.
  • Think about the affordability factor. Food, vet bills, medication and vaccinations cost a lot of money. Can you honestly take care of your pet responsibly?
  • Adopt rather than buy from outside sources. Remember, millions of animals are euthanized every year. Better to save a life than put money in a breeder's pocket.
  • To potty train or not to potty train? That is the question. Do you really want to go through the rigors of potty traininga young pup? Or, is an adult animal a better choice?
  • Consider a fish aquarium, bird or exotic reptile if you enjoy animals but don't want the responsibility of a cat or a dog.

Do you have a beloved pet that has helped you cope with your disease? Share your favorite pet story below in my latest Show and Tell.


Marian R. Banksa and William A. Banksb. The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Loneliness in an Elderly Population in Long-Term Care Facilities. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2002) 57 (7): M428-M432.

Williams E, Jenkins R. Dog visitation therapy in dementia care: a literature review. Nurs Older People. 2008 Oct;20(8):31-5.

Dimitrijević I. Animal-assisted therapy--a new trend in the treatment of children and adults. Psychiatr Danub. 2009 Jun;21(2):236-41.

Ryder EL. Pets and the elderly. A social work perspective. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 1985 Mar;15(2):333-43.

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