Pets – The Heart Health & The Heart Break

While there is absolutely no doubt in the minds of pet people that we benefit enormously from the presence of our companion animals, we rarely consider the science behind that. Speaking for myself, I know that snuggling up on the sofa with Pixie for our Friday ‘Pizza & Movie’ night gives me the warm and fuzzies. According to WebMD, that’s down to an increase in levels of serotonin and dopamine. I’m pretty certain that she feels the same way too, but I suspect that’s because she quite enjoys a cheesy crust!

Pet ownership has long been acknowledged to combat feelings of loneliness, lower stress & blood pressure. High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can be released when we are stressed which can be linked to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of heart disease. Dog owners in particular benefit from daily outdoor exercise and fresh air with their companions. This can also improve our mental and emotional wellbeing too as very often this can lead to further human interaction and even romance with our pups often providing the opportunity to get chatting and break the ice!

These incredible health benefits are sadly mirrored by the occurrence of a broken heart when they cross the Rainbow Bridge. Broken Heart Syndrome, also known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, is often caused by a stressful event such as pet bereavement, with symptoms which mimic a heart attack. A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the case of a woman called Joanie Simpson from Texas who woke up with chest pains following the death of her Yorkshire Terrier Meha. Broken Heart Syndrome is more common in women than men and has been shown to cause damage to the blood vessels around the heart although there is no sign of blocked arteries.

With the loss of a companion animal, we must be mindful that the health benefits are no longer present. If we are not careful, we can see a decline in our own health and wellbeing both mentally and physically. It’s important to still take that daily exercise and fresh air for general wellbeing but perfectly acceptable to change route if we are not ready to have a conversation with those we would normally meet about the absence of our pet. We should seek support from loved ones at this time to avoid loneliness and perhaps find alternative methods of stress reduction such as yoga or meditation.

Although we feel utterly heart broken by the loss of our beloved companion animals, we can work together to get through this period by implementing healthy coping strategies and perhaps open our hearts and homes again. But if we decide we can not take such heartbreak again, that’s o.k. too.