Creature Thoughts June 2021: Pain Detectors

Our Natural Healers

Kira helping my DVT

This article is an expansion on April’s thoughts on pets who help us to heal….

It’s a wonder how different Kira is from the hounds I’m used to. Even though she is a sighthound, her energy levels are ten times what my Salukis have always exhibited. It’s been an adventure getting used to having an Italian Greyhound in the family, and she still presents us with surprises every day. Despite the adjustments, though, we all adore her. She is sweet, affectionate, and demonstrative. She wants to be close to me all the time; I can rarely sit or lie down without her warm little form pressed up against me. She is smart and a willing student (when nothing is distracting her, anyway) during our training sessions. She comes when she’s called (causing me to doubt all I’ve learned about sighthounds over the decades) and her joyful energy as she bounces around the yard, playing with the faeries and barking at leprechauns, is infectious.

There is one way, though, that she carries on the tradition of my Salukis. She is a natural born healer. I have been going through an … interesting … time health-wise since the beginning of the year. I remind myself of an old computer, as various systems slow down, sputter, and threaten to crash. Life has been a series of doctors’ visits, specialists, and physical therapy. And little Kira has been sharing that journey since early April.

The way she seems to be able to pinpoint my pain is pretty amazing. If the lower back is hurting, she’s pressed right against it. When the pain was centered in a rib injury, she wanted to be lying right across my chest. I’ve been having eye problems, which often give me headaches … so Kira wants to press her cheek right up against my face.

I read a story recently about how they are training dogs to sniff out the COVID-19 virus. These dogs were able to find the virus with a 96% accuracy — far higher than any of the medical tests. It’s been known for some time that dogs can smell diseases such as cancer, and detect blood sugar changes in people with diabetes. But can our pets actually smell pain?

To those of us who have had these natural healers by our sides for so long, it will come as no surprise that the scientific answer is actually “yes.” Dogs, and most likely cats (whose sense of smell is not quite as good as their canine buddies’, but still pretty formidable) can actually smell our pain. A study done in the U.K. at the University of Lincoln showed that dogs can detect the rising cortisol and lowered serotonin levels which occur when we are hurting.

It is thought that one reason our pets seek to comfort us when they sense our pain is because their own “comfort hormones” rise when they smell our levels shift back towards normal. They want us to feel better because it makes them feel better. Our pets recognize not only an emotional and spiritual connection with us, but a physical one, as well.

This explains in a scientific way that our pets know that we are in pain. How, though, does the animal know exactly where it hurts?

With an injury like an actual wound, it would seem obvious that a dog or cat can smell the blood, or the broken skin. Pain which comes from a source that is not open to the air, though, is more a bit more amazing. It’s thought that our pets have such sensitive noses that they can actually detect mild temperature changes, inflammation, and subtle chemical shifts in the body that are associated with pain.

When your dog licks your aching arthritic joint, or your cat tries to wrap herself around your migraine, therefore, don’t let people tell you it’s just a coincidence. Your pet really does know where you are hurting, has an idea of what it feels like, and is trying to help. Is that just because it makes them feel better?

Personally, I think it’s mainly because they love us.

Above image: Kira was lying on my lower leg after a DVT was discovered in my calf.

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A Bit of News

I will be holding my Summer Solstice special again this year. This is a discounted price on three-packs of pre-paid sessions for existing clients. The special will start at midnight on the 20th and run till and including the 22nd. If you are interested in more information, please send me an email.

I apologize for my semi-absence, and also the shortage of Creature Thought issues this year.