My Pets Help Me Deal with Cystic Fibrosis

My Pets Help Me Deal with Cystic Fibrosis
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A few months ago, I was chatting online with the parents of an infant who was newly diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). They discussed how their lives would change and the precautions they’d have to take with CF in their lives. Most seemed sensible to me — no hot tubs for fear of pseudomonas, limited time playing in the dirt, and so on.

However, there was one I disagreed with: They did not want their child to have a pet.

There are valid points to not having a pet. For example, a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics concluded that people with cystic fibrosis who own pets could have an increased risk of developing wheezing and nasal polyps. 

Still, I’m a firm believer in the power of pets, be it a cat, a dog, or even a horse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites several health benefits of animal companions, including lowered stress and increased opportunities to get outdoors and meet new people. I can attest to the benefits based on my own experiences. 

Though my dog is older now and enjoying a life of retirement, I used to take her to the park frequently when she was young. That small amount of exercise took up time I otherwise would have spent sitting around, likely playing games or doing another sedentary hobby. It kept me moving, which we all know is critical with CF. If I had a more active breed of dog (and better knees) I could easily see myself going for jogs or long hikes, both to help my lungs and to keep my best friend occupied. 

As for cats, they might not encourage you to go for a run, but they’re fantastic in other ways. Though he was initially scared of the various noises my airway clearance machines make, my cat quickly accepted them as a reality — much more quickly than any human ever had.

He also likes to sit in my arms on my desk when I’m doing a vest treatment. Sometimes he even sits on my lap, perhaps enjoying the vibrations from the treatment.

I always feel particularly vulnerable and alone during my treatments. Having this small creature put his trust in me and accept this as a normal part of his world is such a liberating feeling. Knowing that he’s there and loves me, regardless of all my funny noises, helps the entire medical process feel like less of a burden.

On days when my pain level is high or my cough is particularly nasty, there’s nothing better than having a furry friend to stick my face into and cuddle close. And it helps knowing that there are a couple of beings who love me no matter what. They see me for who I am, beyond the cystic fibrosis, while also accepting that this is my normal.

I wouldn’t exchange that for all the world. To me, a pet can make all the difference.

Do you have pets, or do you avoid them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today 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 Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

Elizabeth is a 29-year-old Bay Area-based writer living with cystic fibrosis. She loves cats, science fiction, and exploring the great outdoors.
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Elizabeth is a 29-year-old Bay Area-based writer living with cystic fibrosis. She loves cats, science fiction, and exploring the great outdoors.
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