My Pet Rabbit Helps Me Live With Parkinson’s
May 6, 2020
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ― Anatole France
Dogs can help as emotional and physical support animals for humans with various disabilities and chronic illnesses, including Parkinson’s. These animals help make life easier for their humans and improve their quality of life.
Rabbits can’t be classified as support animals because they can’t be trained to help with physical tasks. However, they can provide emotional support by furnishing comfort and other therapeutic benefits to their owners through companionship.
In 2010, my Budgie Bunny was found wandering in a park, fending for himself. Members of a local rabbit rescue organization asked me to foster him until his forever home could be found. That was 10 years ago. Needless to say, I failed at being a foster parent. As a friend once said to me, there are worse things in life to fail at.
Little did I know that five years after saving Budgie, I would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Now he is helping to save me.
How could a 4-pound fur ball possibly help someone with Parkinson’s? More than once when I was in the depths of despair, having a pity party for myself over my current health situation, I have crawled into a ball on the floor and started crying. Many times, Budgie would come over and give me bunny kisses. My tears would melt away, and I would be filled with gratitude to have such a great little buddy who seems to sense my emotions. I do not feel so alone having Budgie in my house.
What else has my bunny done to help me fight Parkinson’s?
Living with a rabbit has taught me some valuable lessons. Budgie has helped me to live in the moment. He taught me to be more patient. And he helped me keep laughter in my life.
Live in the moment
Budgie gets me out of bed in the morning. If I don’t feed him on his schedule, he will make a racket by pushing around his food bowl. If he wants attention, especially when I try to meditate in another room, he will create a lot of noise by working on a bunny construction project or thumping his hind leg. At times like these, I forget in that moment that I have Parkinson’s, and I become aware that Budgie needs something from me.
His life is so precious and he gives me so much comfort.
Patience is a virtue
Since rabbits are prey animals, they tend to be afraid of their own shadow and do not automatically trust humans. It takes a deliberate investment for one to build a relationship with a rabbit. Initially a bunny may be shy, afraid, independent, or hesitant to trust a human. I developed a lot of patience waiting for Budgie to be comfortable with me. It took him a long time to realize I wouldn’t eat him for lunch.
Now that I experience bradykisesia, a Parkinson’s symptom, I can become impatient with myself when I get dressed in the morning. However, the patience I developed while caring for Budgie has helped me to better cope with my slowness of movement.
Laughter is the best medicine
Budgie’s antics never fail to make me smile or laugh. Just this week, I forgot to put his litter box in his pen and he decided to use his food dish as his litter box. Much to my surprise, he didn’t even miss!
Instead of getting annoyed, I chuckled and gave my sweet bunny a few scratches behind his ears.
Laughter can alter dopamine and serotonin levels that are reduced depression. Depression can affect up to half of all people with Parkinson’s at some point during the course of their disease. Budgie keeps me laughing, and laughter makes me feel good.
Although Budgie cannot provide physical assistance or balance and support like a guide dog, he does provide companionship and makes a great emotional support animal for me. Studies have linked pet ownership with reducing signs of depression in people with chronic illnesses and with reducing loneliness.
Having Parkinson’s can bring about many emotional and mental health problems. The calming nature of a therapy or emotional support animal (yes, even a rabbit) can help ease anxiety, release endorphins, and reduce stress.
“Rabbits will always have a special place in my heart. They are often discredited as being good pets because they don’t ‘do anything’—ask any rabbit owner and watch how they laugh!” – Shenita Etwaroo
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.