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Got A Migraine? Get A Dog!

Doctors tell their patients all kinds of crazy advice about how to improve their migraines. And I’m sure over the years my patients have thought some of my advice was a bit off the wall. But when I started investigating the benefits of dogs for reducing common chronic pain syndromes, like migraine, I got a lot of questioning looks.

When my family was joined by a soft-coated wheaten terrier puppy, we had to make lots of changes so the puppy would be properly scheduled. Being a bit compulsive, my son and I posted a puppy training schedule on the refrigerator that had the whole day planned, with times for meals, play, sleep, socializing, potty breaks, etc. It soon became clear that we were not only scheduling our puppy’s day—we were also scheduling our own! And as we fell into a doggie lifestyle, we noticed we were eating better, sleeping better, getting in regular exercise, and feeling happier. During this time, I also noticed that it was easier to get dog owning patients to stick with a regular schedule for meals and sleep and keep up with a walking program.


This led me to see what benefits occur from dogs in our lives, inspiring me to write Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health and my new book A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy and Healing: The Power of Wagging Tails. Although you can’t find specific research projects testing how dogs affect migraines, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that our beloved pets can help reduce many migraine triggers and help relieve pain. Here’s a bit of the evidence:

  • Petting a dog actually reduces pain severity. In an incredible experiment reported in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found that pain levels in hospital patients dropped by one-third after spending 15 minutes petting one of the dogs trained and approved to visit hospital patients (otherwise known as “therapy dogs.”) Another study found patients reduced their use of pain killers by nearly half when they had regular dog visits.
  • Aerobic exercise helps reduce migraine pain and dogs are great exercise motivators. People who own dogs consistently have been shown to complete more regular, healthy aerobic exercise than folks without a dog. Excuses like bad weather, extra laundry, bad hair day, etc. may work for you and your human walking buddy, but no self-respecting pooch will stand for this nonsense. And when you get “the look” at walking time, you’re likely to get out there and get in that healthy exercise.
  • Stress is the number one migraine trigger for most people and dogs are terrific stress busters. Petting a dog lowers your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, and reduces your body’s stress response. It’s not the stress itself that triggers migraine—it’s your body’s physiological response to stress.
  • Skipping meals and getting dehydrated can trigger migraines. When breakfast time comes for Fido, do you ever hear him say, “No time for breakfast today. I need more time fixing my hair, checking my emails, posting on Facebook.” Fido doesn’t skip meals and neither should you. Dogs also do a great job of taking advantage of drinks throughout the day, lapping up water in their water dishes, rain water on the street, and even snacking on snow. Keeping yourself hydrated too is a great way to keep migraines in check.
  • Most people don’t get their needed 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night and inadequate sleep has been linked to increased migraine activity. Dogs are great role models for good sleep and will probably remind you that it’s bedtime when you want to add one more Tweet or start another movie after what should be your bedtime.

Need more proof? In a fascinating study, Dr. Serpell at the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine in Cambridge evaluated new pet owners and people without pets for the occurrence of what were called “minor” health problems—which included headaches. While there was no change in minor health problems over six months among non-pet owners, minor health problems dropped by 50 percent after just one month of adding a dog to the household. And minor health problems continued to be reduced in dog owners for the six months of the study.

Visit www.FitAsFido.com for tips on using your dog as your “canine personal trainer” to help you become a happier, healthier, and hopefully more migraine-free you!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • aks868
    2 years ago

    I would love to get a dog, but we had a really bad experience with a dog that we had to put down because she became aggressive at 2 years old and now my husband won’t get another one. He has been very supportive of me and my migraines but says he doesn’t want another thing to take care of and doesn’t want to be tied down by a dog. So, it’s catch 22–I think the dog would help me, but then it would stress me out to think that my hubby would be unhappy–which he was with our first dog. How do you solve that?

  • Mardie Crucchiola
    2 years ago

    This is exactly why I got my German shepherd to train him to be my service animal. People ask me all the time what can your dog do to help you with migraines. I have taught me Atticus to help me get out of my bathtub when I’ve been meditating in there. He helps me pick up things off the floor when I can’t bend my head over. He knows when I’m getting a migraine. I recently left my second home in Palm Springs California because he didn’t believe me my dog was a service dog. I turned it over to authorities HUD but the owner of the park made my life a living hell. So I decided to sell and move back to Oregon. So much for rest and being safe and retired. I turned everything over to HUD and they still haven’t settled anything. I sold my house and took a loss and have been in a state of depression which doesn’t help my headaches. My life is miserable with migraines and having to live in a rainy cold state. Ive went into for Botox treatments twice.i don’t know if it works because I pretty much keep my head quiet and don’t go out with friends at all anymore. I don’t want the triggers anymore. I waited all my life to retire and have a second home in Palm Springs and the rug was pulled out from underneath me again, but I still have my dog and would never give him up for anyone.

  • Wendy Manchester-Harder
    7 years ago

    Loving and taking care of a dog CAN help reduce migraines! My daughter is proof! Best thing that ever happened to her regarding the migraines she suffered from. Better then taking meds!

  • Amy Cardin-Topete
    7 years ago

    The signs just keep telling me to get a puppy! One month of adding a dog to your household and “minor health problems” (including headache, though not necessarily a full-on migraine) could be reduced by 50%! “Another study found patients reduced their use of pain killers by nearly half when they had regular dog visits.” Really hoping this improves my pain level and quality of life! And if not, at the very least I have an adorable dog to hang out with while I’m in pain!

  • Jamie Sohn
    8 years ago

    I absolutely LOVED Fit As Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health. Now I have more reading to do!

    Ok, now we need something for the cat owners out there.

  • GodsGirl IsReal
    8 years ago

    love dogs, and know the feeling of being around a dog when I am not feeling well. My sister’s dog Snowey has seen me through many migraines.

  • Shannon Jose
    8 years ago

    sticking with my cat.

  • Linda Herriott
    8 years ago

    This makes sense!

  • Linda Herriott
    8 years ago

    Think you have to have migraines to understand hun..but thank you to all my friends who do understand x

  • Gillian Bendall
    8 years ago

    … and friends who understand!

  • Charry Black McDonald Jones
    8 years ago

    Sometimes my dog (a 2 year old Doberman) is a stressor, but last week when I was in the bed all day, except to get up and vomit she laid right beside me until my husband came home. And sometimes I think she can tell when I don’t feel well.

  • Leslie Kirkpatrick
    8 years ago

    Toccoa always seems to know when I don’t feel good too.

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago

    Use your dog as a “canine personal trainer” to help you become a happier, healthier, and hopefully more migraine-free!

  • Heather Westall Puente
    8 years ago

    I have three precious Shih Tzu’s they are like my children! Whenever I am in pain, sick, sad and HAPPY they are always with me. They follow me all over! It’s so comforting just to cuddle with them when I feel horrible. They have so much love to give me, unconditional love! I am so blessed to have them. They definately comfort me which, brings my stress level down.

  • Dawn A Marcus
    8 years ago

    Be sure to check out my new book, The Power of Wagging Tails: A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy, coming out May 18th.

  • Nancy Orlando-Bell
    8 years ago

    Abigail~ you are just too Funny! We like the same kind of dogs I see.

  • Nancy Orlando-Bell
    8 years ago

    I like Hve a Migraine~ get a dog! Now that is better than any medication for me!

  • Abigail Bristow
    8 years ago

    my cats stand gaurd when I am down adn they make me feel loved and somewhat happier! but I never really considered a dog as they aren’t allowed in my apt unless they are little rat dogs adn I don’t care for those! <3 U <3 abby

  • Linda LeVay
    8 years ago

    I have two dogs and they always seem to want to go outside and play when I have a migraine!! I don’t have the sympathetic dogs apparently. Instead though if I do go lay down, my kitties curl right up to me! =)

  • Michelle Brimtown
    8 years ago

    My previous dog was like a doting sympathetic best buddy. But my current dog doesn’t have as good of a bed side manner. Still sticks by me though and keeps a watchful eye. Cats get my eyes watering and allergies kick into high gear – no fun to add sinus issues on top of migraine pain. Sorry, I love the cats vs dogs arguement LOL

  • Terri Lannings Johnson
    8 years ago

    I have 6 cats that are a comfort to me.

  • Terri Lannings Johnson
    8 years ago

    Are you kidding? Dogs give me a headache. Barking. It hurts so bad when they bark.

  • Tonia Mcintosh
    8 years ago

    oohhh, i am such a dog lover, but unfortunately i livve in an apartment which doesn’t allow pets of any kind, which makes me sad, b/c i’ve had dogs all of my life!!!! I’m sure if I were to have a dog, she would help my mood swings, don’t know about the migraines tho’ b/c they get to bad.

  • Hoo M Ei
    8 years ago

    I have had dogs ALL my life….. never been without one… I get killer migrianes and clusters…. love my dogs but not thinking they are helping me in this way

  • Shoronda D. Henderson
    8 years ago

    i dont do dogs what’s next soultions for me.

  • Terilee Bennett
    8 years ago

    my choclate lab/border collie mix is my velcro…. through the migraines and through my entire pregnancy… if she thinks somthing is gunna happen she wont leave my side

  • Karen Klein Crow
    8 years ago

    My Lhasa tends to stick even closer to me then normal when a migraine attack is about to hit… Which then allows me to try to do something about it. He also stays by my side (like glue). What a good boy. We originally got him to help with my depression… Nice side effect!!!!!

  • Linda Pesetsky
    8 years ago

    I want a small breed puppy so badly, for a companion, someone to hold, love, etc.. my husband likes large breeds, we had so many over our 25 yrs. of marriage, both large and small. Smaller breed dogs,l to me, are easier to train, also do not damage the house as much as large dogs do. I want a little Maltese, Shih Zhu, Yorkie, my gf is a dog breeder, she has a gorgeous little black shorkie, OMG.. I want her so badly… Mean husband!!!!! :-((( If she lived closer to me, I would drive to go pick up the little angel… Darn!!! Her Yorkies are so beautiful also, she breeds doxies, shih zhu’s, boxers. (I know, I may have spelled some things wrong.) LOL!

  • Migraine Support Group
    8 years ago

    Pets are wonderful for relieving stress- a real win-win situation if approached responsibly. Thanks for posting!

  • John McCafferty
    8 years ago

    Totally agree I am thankful for having such a great dog as Benjy in my life and he is a constant comfort when my migraines are at their worst

  • Thelma Brihm Fluellen
    8 years ago

    NO THAANK’S,GOT TO BE ANOTHER WAY !!!

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Lin — pets can be wonderful when we’re feeling ill! I recently finished writing a book about the healing power of dogs, but you’re right on that cats are powerful, too. Have you read Dr. David Dosa’s wonderful book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat? This tells the story of a cat’s role spreading peace to nursing home patients and their families during their final hours. Just a warning — better have a box of tissues at hand before starting this one!

  • Lin
    8 years ago

    Thanks for posting this. I have a boxer and two cats. They truly do not only reduce my stress level, but also provide the most unexpected amount of joy! I realize that cats don’t provide the “schedule” and outdoor activity that dogs do, but many a times have I been bedridden with a migraine and had a cat laying next to me. Cats are very intuitive and often “know” when we are having a migraine attack.

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    How thoughtful you are! I, of course, ALWAYS recommend copies of Fit As Fido for all occasions for the thoughtful gift giver! 😉

    If you’re interested, you can order Fit As Fido through my website http://www.FitAsFido.com and I will include a personalized message that will be autographed by me and paw-tographed by my wheatens!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    I love this “Fit as Fido” program! My kids have weddings planned for this summer. Both have dogs, so this might be a great idea! Unfortunately, they also both have Migraines, making it even better 🙂 Thanks for this post.

    I used my horses in the same way. Until I had to quit working outside with them (Lupus sun sensitivity) I was very fit. Nothing like walking miles every day, mucking stalls, lifting hay bales and 50 lb grain bags to keep everything in great working order. Oh and the endorphins… !

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Excellent work, Jamie! I’ve often found that patients were among my best educators! Glad you’re enjoying getting Fit As Fido and hope you have fun quizzing your doc to make sure he’s “on the program”, too!

    If you visit, http://www.FitAsFido.com, you can find a downloadable version of the Fit As Fido walking calendar to use. Keep me posted on your progress! And congratulations on starting the New Year by getting healtier with Nature’s perfect personal trainer — your canine trainer, Fido!

  • jay
    8 years ago

    I finally got “fit as fido” and was reading it on my kindle during a recent dr. appt. He asked me what I was reading…

    I told him, and after a laugh, he took a look at a few pages- and nodded approvingly- in his quirky way. Basically saying “this is pretty cool, and I can see how this could be a great read and beneficial”

    he said that he was going to get this for his wife for christmas.

    I follow up with him sometime this month. Have to find out if she liked it as much as I did!

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