I was recently asked to have Georgia (my dog) co-host The International Foundation for Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis’s AiArthritis Voices 360 podcast. The reason being, we wanted to discuss how important pets are to people living with chronic illness.
Georgia getting ready for her debut!
I’ve always been an animal lover and growing up, my family always had a dog. As an adult, I had cats. Cats are great if you love to travel, which I did for most of my 20’s and 30’s. Before getting a dog, I researched for over a year before deciding on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The required exercise, grooming needs, and temperament all seemed to be what I could manage. Sadly, I didn’t research enough about the heath issues of Cavaliers and now I manage 9 diseases for my dog, in addition to my own plethora of health issues.
Can it be stressful? Yes. Is it.
Is it costly? Yes. It definitely is. I now work 5 jobs to afford Georgia’s medication. (No, I’m not exaggerating, I work my full-time job, tutor weekly, work in a speech clinic at night 2x a month, do contracting work for IFAA, and now I am selling toothpaste. If you want whiter teeth, hit me up!!)
Is it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, yes!
Having pets is what keeps me going. Georgia, Milo, and Jaxson take the focus off of my issues. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself when I’m covered in pet sparkles (ok…pet hair and dander….sparkles just sounds more glamorous). Their cuddles and kisses make me feel better than any medicine ever could.
So is pet ownership good for someone with a chronic illness? Let’s see what the experts say….
According to the CDC, there are many health benefits of owning a pet. Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol levels
- Decreased triglyceride levels
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
- Increased opportunities for socialization
On an emotional level, owning a pet has also been proven to decrease depression, stress and anxiety in many people. Therapy dogs are especially effective and providing care for people suffering from trauma and injury. Pet owners didn’t need researchers to tell us this. We have always known how much our furry friends improve our quality of life.
There are some downsides when having a pet when you are chronically ill. Some diseases can be passed from pets to humans, especially with a weak immune system.
Because of the close connection between people and animals, it’s important to be aware of the common ways people can get infected with germs that can cause Zoonotic diseases. These can include:
- Direct contact: Coming into contact with the saliva, blood, urine, mucous, feces, or other body fluids of an infected animal. Examples include petting or touching animals, and bites or scratches.
- Indirect contact: Coming into contact with areas where animals live and roam, or objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with germs. Examples include aquarium tank water, pet habitats, chicken coops, plants, and soil, as well as pet food and water dishes.
- Vector-borne: Being bitten by a tick, or an insect like a mosquito or a flea.
- Foodborne: Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food. Eating or drinking something unsafe (such as unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat or eggs, or raw fruits and vegetablesthat are contaminated with feces from an infected animal).
It should be noted that all of these “cons” can be managed by washing hands and using common sense.
Other cons include cost. Owning a pet can be costly, especially if they have medical needs.
From the experts:
While preparing for the podcast, I reached out to pet owners in various “dog illness” groups that I participate in on social media. These groups have helped me a lot in learning how to manage Georgia’s many illnesses. I asked people to give me their opinion on owning a pet with a chronic illness. I wasn’t surprised by the passion people expressed in caring for a pet. I expected that. What blew me away was how many people in these groups started their response with, “I live with (MS, Fibromyalgia, Myasthenia Gravis, Ehlers Danlos, Diabetes, etc.)” All of the people who stated they were caring for a sick pet while also managing their own medical needs. Many people with autoimmune arthritis diseases mentioned getting a dog to stay mobile. It might be painful to walk but if you have a furry one depending on you, you take them regardless of your own pain. Here are some quotes from fellow animal lovers:
Lynn F. says: My Romeo has SM and IVDD. He had spinal surgery in June and had to learn to walk, lift his leg, etc. all over again. My other two both have MVD. I would say the hardest thing is to learn to live in the moment bc you just never know what tomorrow holds. And I was not prepared for the expenses. It’s a lot of work and a lot of worry. But pets are for life so I will take this journey with them to the end. They are my family.
Jen R.,: Stuey has been hand fed for 5 1/2 years, we haven’t gone on vacation because no one can pup sit him, he costs a fortune to stay healthy and he is our child and the best thing that has ever happened to my husband and I. Stu has brought us closer, inspires us, makes us laugh, comforts me with my chronic illness and is the most amazing pup I have ever known. Stuey and I have a bond that is extremely strong because we have gone through all his ups and downs together and he trusts me with his life. My husband and I have never had a bond so strong to any animal, he is truly our child. We are also able to understand each other because a lot of our health symptoms are similar
Meet Stuey on Facebook
Lynn R: , I have a chronic illness remissive MS so I have days that can be pretty rough. But I’ve always wanted a cavalier and waited until I could afford them. Never did I think both of my girls would have chronic illness right from the start. Kira came with issues and has since been diagnosed with MVD and probable SM. Kylie diagnosed with SM not long after I got her. I feel guilty leaving them so I don’t. I run up to a store but then come straight back. No vacation unless they can come I have insurance but many of Kira’s health issues were pre existing so no coverage. When they have good days my day is great. When an health issue arises for a day then my day sucks. My two girls are still young so I’m hoping to god the good days will out weigh the bad. I give supplements, laser, Assisi Loop at all times during the day and right up till bedtime. Who could I trust to do this for me if I went somewhere?
Beth M: My Teddy was born with congenital megaesophagus which means he has to be fed upright. With megaesophagus dogs, finding the right diet is often difficult and a long process. Teddy has taught me patience, love, and above all, appreciation. He appreciates that I love him enough to spend an hour each day feeding him and ensuring his food makes its way to his stomach. 😊 Because he was a very small boy when I first adopted him, I had a harness I wore on my chest which held him upright when I fed him several small meals throughout the day. Because of his needs we have a very strong and special bond.
Meet Teddy on Facebook!
Nicci L: My Boston has cm/ am ,hemivertebrae , tethered cord , kyphosis of the spine – you would hardly know – and yet he was my wee rehab partner after a kidney and pancreas transplant 3.5 years ago – gave me me a reason to get moving every day
Lani S: A brief story on my life… I’m my mums full time carer, she has terminal lung disease, I have trauma induced peripheral neuropathy & my pooch Ruby has COMS since 18 months, she is 6 now. Between all 3 of us we are walking pharmacies. Ruby came into my life when I was ready to end it. She gave me hope, reason to get out of bed & purpose. She is the reason I’m about to start a business of designing pjs for humans with cavis on them & matching pjs for cavis too.
Panpen N: For me, if you love your pets, you can do everything for them as they are family members. My boy was born with heart condition and several health problems including CM/SM. Even though it took time to get stable on everything, I can confirm that it is not a problem living our lives with sick pets as long as you learn and get to know what they need and treat them right.
It’s pretty clear that dog lovers will go to the ends of the Earth to provide their pets with what they need. It’s also clear that our pets have a very important role in our lives.
Some tips for people living with chronic illness who are caring for pets:
-Have supplies delivered. Chewy and Amazon are great for this service. I personally am the Princess of Chewy (Georgia Grace is the queen). I get a 25 lb. bag of cat food, and litter delivered for the cats. I could not carry that stuff to and from my car. It’s placed on my doorstep and I open it outside and drag in items one at a time. Deliveries most often have auto delivery options, so you never run out. Make your life easier and get stuff delivered.
-Utilize services that can help you like dog walkers or doggy day care. These can be cost prohibitive, but if you can afford it, it is a great way to keep your dog active.
-Get a stroller, especially if your dog is chronically ill. Georgia’s stroller is my ‘crutch’ when I need it in the community, plus, she loves sitting at the perfect height to receive pets from strangers! It also doubles as a Halloween costume!
-Get pet insurance. I can personally attest to how much insurance can help cover astronomical medical bills.
The discussion continues on with the role of support animals on our podcast. Click here to listen, comment, and share! I’d love to hear your suggestions for taking care of a pet while living with a chronic illness. You never know what could help someone else, so please share with us!
Listen here: Support Animals: Chronic Illness and Pets
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