"I love you," are words that 63 percent of pet owners say to their pets at least daily. Even more dramatically, 83 percent refer to themselves as their pet's mom or dad according to the same American Animal Hospital Assn. survey. As such, we can no longer ignore the medical significance of the bond we have with four-legged family members.
And who best to give us the medical perspective of the human-animal bond than Edward T. Creagan, MD, a cancer specialist and professor at the Mayo Clinic Medical School. He's been known to prescribe pets for his patients to help them cope with the rigors of treatment. He knows what extraordinary medical mojo our companion animals bring us, especially in troubled times.
Dr. Creagan's new book is just out. It's titled "How Not to Be My Patient: A Physician's Secrets to Staying Healthy and Surviving Any Diagnosis" (Health Communications, Inc.). The book is full of astute observations on how to stay healthy. I'm going to let you in on one of those secrets right now.
Here's what Dr. Creagan has observed about patients who survive and thrive despite the scariest diagnosis of all -- cancer.
"Almost every day in the clinic, I see patients who do not conform to what is described in medical textbooks. These people had dreadful prognoses based upon a pathology report, a CT scan, or what we observed in the operating room, yet they continue to do amazingly well," according to Dr. Creagan. What is it about these survivors, he wants to know?
"We sample blood and look for patterns, but there does not seem to be a consistent theme in the laboratory studies. The answer to their success lies elsewhere," he told me.
What he found in these patients with amazing resilience was a sense of connectedness, a long-term relationship with spouses or partners or a pet. There's just something about a wagging tail or purring cat that rank them among the most powerful medicines known to humankind. Research continues to tell us that pets keep their owners happy, health, and active, and Dr. Creagan's observations bear this out.