Feline Friend Helps Owner Cope with Essential Tremor

Sheralyn Nicholson got much more than a pet when she adopted her cat, Willow. She got a caregiver and friend.

Sheralyn has essential tremor (ET). Her mom told her she first noticed Sheralyn’s tremor when she was in the first grade. But Sheralyn doesn’t remember life without it; she has never known anything different.

Nine years ago, she adopted a rescue cat through an ad on Kajiji (an online classified ad service popular in Canada). Her cat not only understands Sheralyn’s ET, but also tries to help her when her tremors are bad.

“She is patient with me,” said Sheralyn, who lives in Ontario, Canada. “When she sees my hand shaking, she puts her paw on it to steady it. She seems to know I’m struggling.”

But it’s not just Sheralyn’s shaking hands that Willow sees.

“When she sees my legs are shaking when I’m laying down, she lays across them to help calm them,” Sheralyn said. “It’s like having a weighted blanket. When I fall asleep she gets down.”

Studies show that animals can have a number of positive effects on humans. Human-animal interactions (HAI) have been known to increase oxytocin levels in people, according to the study Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin (Beetz, Uvnas-Moberg, Julius and Kotrschal, 2012).  Oxytocin has been linked to anti-stress-like effects such as reduction of blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Sheralyn’s ET, like most, is familial. Both of her grandmothers had it, but much later in their lives. She’s thankful for the love and support Willow provides.

“Animals are amazing,” Sheralyn said. “They have a calming effect.”

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