Valentine’s Day gives us the chance to celebrate the love we have or the love we have known in our lives. For many of us that love comes in the shape of our dog, our cat, our horse or the many other animals we look after – the animals who look after us and give us their unconditional love.
The power of love – Poor St. Valentine
Poor St. Valentine, martyred on 14th February AD 269, won’t have foreseen the world celebrating romance and love on his feast day centuries later.
Of course, there are many different kinds of love to celebrate, but they all have one thing in common – a release of oxytocin known as the love or cuddle hormone. This helps to form the basis of all our bonding and social interactions and has also been shown to decrease stress and anxiety levels when released into certain parts of the brain.
Special animal bonds
There’s even more cause to celebrate if we are lucky enough to have animals in our lives. People are often cheered up when they are greeted with enthusiasm by a friendly dog, for example. We’ve shared a special bond with dogs for millennia ever since they figured out it was worth their while sitting by our firesides to gain a bite to eat and keep warm. Or was it us who invited them to do a few things around the place……. probably a bit of both!
Either way, it has been demonstrated that touch between a human and a dog can have therapeutic benefits for both species. Petting a dog can trigger the release of oxytocin in both human and dog and reduce cortisol (although you do need to be sure the dog is OK with you doing it). It can also lower heart rate and blood pressure . The Complementary Medical Association recently highlighted the many studies demonstrating that having a pet dog is associated with improved physical health.
Dogs seem to sense sadness or dis-ease in their humans and often attempt to make their owners happy by initiating a cuddle. Some dogs are so good at this, they are specifically trained as therapy pets.
If you are homeless, the deep bond you have with your dog may well be your lifeline. There are several charities which look after the homeless community and their dogs including Dogs on the Streets and Streetvet.
There’s a special festival In Nepal called Kukur Tihar which specifically thanks dogs for their loyalty and friendship.
Horses can heal too
Riding and Driving for the Disabled has successfully enriched people’s lives with horses and ponies who seem to instinctively know that they need to be careful with their riders or drivers – even with equines who may be, shall we say, “characters” in their day-to-day lives.
There are also many examples of the emotional support given by horses and their amazing contribution to the rehabilitation of people with a variety of conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, various forms of abuse and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
It’s very likely that friendly interaction with other animals will have similar effects.
And when there’s heartbreak….
Of course, this love is all very well, but if our hearts are broken, a cuddle with the dog can be the perfect antidote. The author Dean Koonz summed it up when he said of his dog:
“One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness they evoke in us. […] By their delight in being with us, the reliable sunniness of their disposition, the joy they bring to playtime, the curiosity with which they embrace each new experience, dogs can melt cynicism, and sweeten the bitter heart.”
The natural world
Contact with nature and growing things – like roses – is another way of lifting the spirits and improving mental health. As the TV gardener, Monty Don said:
“That first snowdrop, the flowering of the rose you pruned, a lettuce you grew from seed, the robin singing just for you. These are small things but all positive, all healing in a way that medicine tries to mimic.”
Without wishing to anthropomorphise, there seem to be demonstrations of love throughout the animal kingdom. Valentine’s Day coincides with the early signs of spring and nature has an extraordinary array of courtship unfolding around this time. The first frog spawn appears. Tawny owls hoot to potential mates. Baby badgers are being born underground. Greater spotted woodpeckers start drumming to stake out a territory and attract a partner.
Great crested grebes embark on their mating ballet dance. They puff up their neck plumage and mirror each other with neck bending, diving and gift giving – waterweed rather than roses!
And of course, nature’s palette becomes increasingly varied as flowers add colour to our lives.
We can show our love for wildlife by feeding the birds, making our gardens wildlife-friendly and supporting one of the many wildlife conservation organisations.
Roses – the classic Valentine’s Day symbol
Herbalist Michaela Ritter of SamoVila writes:
Roses have been the flower of choice for thousands of years when it comes to mesmerising the desired person and bringing the love so desperately longed for. Roses are the symbol of love all over the world; a unique language. But why is this? Apart from the enchantingly sweet smell that lingers around like a gentle veil of love, roses actually have an astonishing effect on the endocrine system – they can reduce adrenaline by up to 30%. How’s that for being wooed!
Cleopatra is known to have used roses and the scent of other flowers like jasmine to scent, not just herself and her bed, but also the sails of her barque when processing down the Nile. This would have mingled with the overwhelming smell of roses from thousands of rose petals which were strewn into the water by onlookers. No wonder Rome was a close ally ……….
In the language of flowers popularised by the Victorians, a gift of red roses epitomises the joy of Valentine’s Day. They look, and often smell, gorgeous and hopefully evoke a feeling of everlasting love and passion when given and received.
Roses can help and heal in other ways too. As well as culinary uses, there are numerous applications for medical, emotional, and behavioural problems for you and your animals.
We look at flower and other essences, herbal medicine, aromatherapy and homeopathy in our Healing Roses blog
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your animals
Isobel is a Co-Founder and active CAM4animals supporter along with her Jack Russell who has integrated veterinary care. She has a background in wildlife conservation and writing, and is passionate about the importance of addressing animal welfare and environmental issues.
Michaela is a fully qualified and registered Dipl Master Herbalist and Naturopath and founder of SamoVila Specialised Herbal Therapy. She has been working with and studying herbs and essential oils since 1992 and has acquired a very broad knowledge about botanicals for a truly holistic use in supporting health and well being – be it physically, mentally or spiritually. Michaela is further certified in Equine Health (from vet Nicola Kerbyson) and Advanced Equine Nutrition (from nutritionist Dr. Jo-Anne Murray) and currently studies Tierheilpraktiker (Animal Naturopathic Practitioner) with a view to qualify in 2022. She specialises in horses and other herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats, etc) but also works with other species, including dogs, cats, rats and other small pets. She incorporates the principles of Zoopharmacognosy (the ability of animals to choose their own remedies) combined with her in-depth knowledge about herbs into her consultations.
Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information.
The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website