Got Fibromyalgia? Call in the Dogs

Spending time with your dog can be therapeutic

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, often disabling pain condition affecting 2 to 3 percent of people in the United States and Europe. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain, poor sleep, fatigue, mood problems, and digestive symptoms. The quiz below can help you see if your symptoms might be from fibromyalgia:

Fibromyalgia questionnaire

(Reproduced from The Woman’s Fibromyalgia Toolkit by Drs. Marcus and Deodhar, Diamedica Publishing 2012)

Fibromyalgia is typically treated with a combination of drug, nutritional, and nondrug therapies. At our center, we recently evaluated the impact of adding a 40-pound Wheaten Terrier therapy dog to a pain clinic to help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms in our patients. The results of this study were just released in the journal Pain Medicine. In this study, a patients with fibromyalgia could spent time before or between clinic appointments in a traditional waiting room with a television and magazines or in another room with the trained therapy dog. People in both groups were surveyed about their symptoms before entering either waiting area. After spending about 15 minutes in either waiting area, people were asked to rate their symptoms again. A total of 84 people with fibromyalgia spent time with the dog and 49 waited in the traditional waiting area.

Here are the results:

  • Spending time in the regular waiting room didn’t make symptoms substantially better or worse.
  • Spending waiting time with a therapy dog significantly reduced pain, anxiety, and distress.

—  Irritability dropped by almost half

—  Anxiety, stress, and sadness were each decreased by about 40 percent

—  Fatigue and pain were each reduced by almost 20 percent

  • Spending time with the dog also improved people’s moods, with no change in the regular waiting room.

—  Before entering either waiting area, about one in five or six people (20 percent or less) felt calm, pleasant, or cheerful. This didn’t change for people after waiting in the regular waiting room.

—  After spending time with the therapy dog, two in three people (over 60 percent) were calm, pleasant, and cheerful.

This study highlights what pet owners already know—spending time with your dog can be therapeutic. No one would think just spending time with a dog is all you need to do to make fibromyalgia symptoms get better. But spending therapeutic time with a friendly dog can help bring your symptoms down a notch and that can make an important difference. If you live with a pet, you might want to add Fluffy time before exercise, relaxation, and so forth. And if you don’t have a pet, think about volunteering at your local animal shelter for therapeutic cuddling time with pets waiting for adoption. You might walk dogs or pet kittens and bunnies. Being a shelter volunteer helps you get a therapeutic dose of pet time without the added daily responsibilities of pet ownership.

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