Oct. 1, 2018
Developing and evaluating a selfcare intervention for chronic pain sufferers who live with a dog
Nearly 25 years ago, Pamela Pyle shattered her ankle in a motorcycle accident and now lives with chronic pain. Her dog Willow, a two-year-old shepherd-lab cross, assists her with moving around but more importantly, is helping to ease her pain.
“When my pain is extreme, she’ll lay on my feet and stay there until I can feel my pain start to drop,” she says. Pyle is a patient member of the HAPI (Human Animal Pain Interaction) study at UCalgary, led by Eloise Carr, which examines the experience of dog owners who live with chronic pain. Carr’s team is made up of experts in nursing, social work, veterinary medicine, sociology and community health sciences across Alberta.
“The human and animal world have some of the same questions when it comes to pain management,” says Carr. “But veterinarians are way ahead of us in terms of ways to manage it for their canine clients.”
An earlier study showed that living with a dog helps individuals coping with chronic pain related to their mental, physical and social well-being. A feasibility study surveyed dog and non-dog owners to measure different aspects of their health and wellness and found dog owners reported significantly less severe pain. They give people motivation to get out of the house and socialize. Dogs also provide distraction, along with listening and emotional support. Respondents in the study mentioned they experience benefits from talking to their dog and offloading their concerns to a non-judgmental figure.
“People with chronic pain become very isolated; their relationships with other human beings disappear because people get tired of talking about pain with other human beings, or listening to people talking about pain,” says Carr. “That doesn’t happen with dogs.”
What's next: The HAPI team is applying for grants to develop a self-care intervention for people who have chronic low back pain and live with a dog.