Girl laughs as cat lays on her head during vest treatment.

My Pet is a Part of My CF Care

Apart from the fun and joy animals bring us, animals can also be natural healers, especially when we welcome them into our homes. There’s growing research showing pet ownership has positive benefits.1-4 Some of the psychosocial benefits include improvements in mental health and coping with disease.2,3 There’s less convincing research that pet ownership had a direct impact on physical health. However, amazingly, there are animals such as working dogs that can help with various tasks like detecting low blood sugar and other health-related tasks.5 All in all, I’m not sure we deserve animals--but they continually show up to help us!

My pet cat, Sybil

Two photos of Janeil sitting with her pet cat as she completes her cystic fibrosis breathing treatments with her vest
In our household we have a crazy pet cat, Sybil, who is 90% ridiculous fluff and 10% cuddle. A few years ago, when we adopted Sybil, I never thought she would serve such a significant role in my CF care as she does now. Of course, I expected Sybil to be a well-loved pet, but I didn’t foresee the various levels of support she could offer when it came to my daily in-and-outs of CF. After seven years of owning a pet, I now see how valuable and comforting pet-ownership can be to someone with a chronic illness like cystic fibrosis.

How pets can help with cystic fibrosis care

Treatment companion

Our cat, Sybil, is a very affectionate cat. It’s not surprising that she seeks us out for attention when she needs it. However, it didn’t take her long to learn that airway clearance was a perfect time to settle down next to me. At first, I thought the loud noises and violent shaking would scare her off. Instead, they put her to sleep quicker. In fact, she likes to lay under the hoses so they vibrate on her back like some homemade kitty massager. Honestly, it is a bit strange, but cats are strange creatures as we know.

After seven years of friendship and a toddler joining our group, I still expect her to “knock on the door” if I start treatments without her. She’s truly dedicated to her treatment duties. I don’t know if her dedication is the result of selfish motives (i.e. she gets lots of belly rubs), but I am thankful she trained herself to the cues of my treatment schedule to offer support.

Home IV cuddler

There’s a lot of moments in daily CF life that can be very isolating. Treatments, home IVs, necessary rest time during exacerbations--man, I’m lonely just writing about it. It’s never easy to be missing out or to be too tired to join in the social activities. That’s where pets, once again, step in to lessen the sting of cystic fibrosis FOMO (fear of missing out).

Last year, I felt like all I did was go through the motions of home IVs and push through fatigue. There was very little leftover energy to enjoy social events. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time in bed when I wasn’t spending my time mothering. During those times, Sybil was always there with me to cuddle and take a nap. It was a small thing, but it truly felt less lonely and more comforting to know someone was there--even if the only thing we did was share each other’s company.

Caring for someone beyond myself

CF can be self-absorbing a lot of the time, and for good reason. It necessarily takes a lot of effort and time to manage this disease. I never want CF to engulf my thoughts and feelings, but it has the power to do so every so often.

However, before I became a mom, caring for our cat allowed me to temporarily forget my own needs in order to make sure hers were meant. It felt good! As silly as that sounds, I believe it helps improve my mood and mental health when I focus on others, especially pets who only offer their love to us.

Do pets help with your CF?

What role does your pet play in your cystic fibrosis care? Tell us about your furry support system!

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