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How my cats help me with a degenerative spinal condition.

In honour of Blue Monday yesterday, which has been named the most depressing day of the year, Cats Protection has released a selection of cats purring to soothe the soul.

A study carried out in conjunction with the Mental Health Foundation revealed that owning a cat is beneficial for our health. The survey found that 87 per cent of people who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing and research has shown that a cat’s purr is widely recognised as having therapeutic effects.

Sarah Blohm reports that her cats are vitally important in helping her deal with a degenerative spinal condition:

“I used to have a very active life – between a job that I loved, various sports I played, travelling and socialising, one of my old housemates once complained that she never saw me! These days things are very different.

“I was diagnosed several years ago with chronic degenerative disc disease which has required me to have numerous procedures, two operations to replace badly damaged discs and to stabilise the base of my spine and lengthy periods of rehabilitation. As the damage progressed I found myself increasingly unable to do things I used to take for granted – culminating in having to give up work due to the level of pain caused by my condition. I take several different pain medications which help the mechanical pain to a degree but which have little impact on the neuropathic pain. The best way I can describe the neuropathic pain is that it feels like someone jamming red hot needles through my spine, into my hip and down my leg. Not nice!

two white and tabby cats on arm of sofa

Sarah's cats Gabriel and Charlie


“During my first appointment at a pain clinic, the psychologist asked me if I had any pets. He explained that the company of an animal can have a positive effect on a patient's health, both physically and mentally. It's not uncommon for people suffering from chronic pain to experience depression and/or anxiety, which makes dealing with the physical pain that much harder. Thankfully I was able to say yes, I had my cats. I adopted Charlie and Gabriel from Cats Protection around five years ago, at a point when I was still able to work part-time. They are both sweet-natured, gentle, naturally affectionate boys – and it's no exaggeration to say that they have been a lifeline for me.

“It's not unusual for the pain to cause me to go without sleep for a couple of days at a time and a lot of my time is spent at home. The pain means that sometimes I don't want to speak to other people, but as a sociable person, this can be very isolating. The affection and comfort I receive from my cats is unconditional – they don't care if I'm still in my pyjamas at 4pm, looking rough as anything! When the pain is particularly bad, bad enough to bring me to tears, they stick close by me. The comfort of having one or both of them curled up with me on the sofa or in bed is enormous.

“Studies have shown that just petting an animal can have a positive effect on a person's health. Having something to focus on other than the pain, or the fact that my life isn't what I expected it to be, really does help. Also, being responsible for their welfare, making sure they are fed and well cared for, gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning when otherwise I would probably remain in the cocoon of my duvet.

“When I used to work in social housing I often visited elderly and disabled people as part of my job. I lost count of the number of times people would say to me "you probably think I'm daft but I don't know what I would do without my pet". But it's not daft – not at all. The company of another living thing cannot be underestimated if you are isolated from other people much of the time. It's not just the softness of my cats’ fur under my hands or the feeling of their purrs reverberating against me when they're on my lap or draped around my shoulders. They also often make me laugh – and laughter can be a powerful thing. Only the other day, in an attempt to jump onto the window ledge to survey his kingdom, Gabriel somehow managed to jump between the curtain material and the liner material, then turned himself around and around in an effort to extricate himself. I went into my bedroom to find a rather lumpy looking curtain that was miaowing loudly.

“The psychologist at the pain clinic was right. My cats have helped me more than I ever imagined possible. Adopting the two of them was one of the best decisions I ever made. Every day I'm grateful for their company, their affection, and their ability to change my tears of pain and frustration to tears of laughter.

“My boys have 100 per cent saved my sanity. I guess you could say we've rescued each other.”

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