Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. Here are some stories.
No matter what type of pet you have — dog, cat, bunny, or hamster — they can calm you, make you laugh, and lift your spirits when you’re down.
But for those of us with MS, or another chronic condition, pets can provide so much more than entertainment and love — as if that wasn’t enough. In my experience, they can actually alert us to an impending flare.
I have multiple sclerosis. I also have a secret weapon: my dog, Rascal.
I don’t know exactly when I noticed that my dog seemed to have a sixth-sense about my disease, but he’s proven repeatedly that sometimes he knows what I need even before I do.
This furry little Morkie is so sensitive to me and my health, he alerts me prior to a flare or relapse.
When I’m about to experience a flare, he follows on my heels absolutely everywhere and gets extremely agitated if I’m out of his field of view. He’ll lie on me and try to keep me seated or lying down during a flare, or in the time just prior to one occurring.
How does he know? I have no idea. But he helps me more than I could’ve ever imagined a dog would. And it’s not just his advanced flare warnings.
His unconditional acceptance, judgment-free companionship, and unmistakable adoration comfort me during some of my toughest days dealing with MS symptoms.
I’m the community manager for the Healthline: Living with MS Facebook page. I posted about Rascal and my experience with him, and asked community members if they have pets that helped them with their MS.
I knew there had to be others, but I wasn’t prepared for the numerous messages I received.
Stories about how important Fido is to multiple MSers
It seems there are a lot of pets that warn people living with MS of impending flares, help keep them upright when their balance is off, and lay on or with them when they’re recovering from an infusion or a flare.
Raja Callikan shares a remarkable story about his cousin’s dog named Shona that Callikan spends as much time with as possible.
“She can always guess the state I’m in, whether I am in a bad state or a good one, and her way of interacting with me is as per my state. She’ll be as caring and cuddly as possible when I’m in a bad state, and when I’m in a better state, she will be very playful,” he says.
Callikan continues, “She always puts a smile on my face. In fact, she’s one of my best friends. On top of that, I don’t have to care about the MS because there is no judgment, not even pity.”
Animals are a unique and very special kind of caregiver. They offer companionship and support and, as Callikan says, no judgment.
Another MS warrior shares her experience with her dog, Mizery, and how intuitively this little dog warns her and helps her get through some of the tougher parts of her disease.
“She knows if I have a fever before I do, she warns me if I’m about to have a seizure, and never leaves my side when I’m in severe pain,” says Melissa Fink of her 7-year-old little black and white Chihuahua.
“She will lay across me like she is trying to hold me down, telling me it’s time to calm down and rest. She also will wake me if it’s time for my meds, and won’t let [me] fall back asleep. She is my world,” Fink writes.
There are so many potential benefits to having a pet when you have a chronic illness. The companionship alone is fantastic. There are many times when I would otherwise be alone, but Rascal never seems to tire of my company.
When I’m really feeling bad, I tend to isolate myself from people. I don’t like to feel like a burden and I don’t want to feel pressured to talk. Rascal just snuggles up with me and lets me know he’s there.
No pressure, just companionship.
Here are a few other things our community members had to say about their furry friends:
“Kaci, my 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, assists me on walks, reminds me of forgotten medication, alerts me to take a nebulizer treatments (for my asthma), lets me know when the washer or dryer are completed, alerts me to storms, makes me take naps or to rest, lets me know to get a drink of water… each day is new. She’s my best friend.” — Pam Harper Houser
“My girl Chloe never leaves my side. She will even stop me from walking when she feels a dizzy spell coming on even before I feel it. The first time she did it I was wondering what the heck she was trying to do, and then I realized. She has been my angel.” — Janice Brown-Castellano
“My Daisy knows when flare-ups are coming and when they happen she won’t leave my side! If I’m in bed all day due to a flare, you’ll find her lying right next to me.” — Michelle Hampton
The scientific benefits of dogs
The concept of animals being therapeutic for people with various medical conditions is hardly new.
Florence Nightingale wrote all the way back in the 19th century, “A small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick.”
There are, of course, those pets that are trained as assistive partners, like leading the blind or retrieving something for an owner that isn’t mobile. Pets are even used in physical rehabilitation such as physical or occupational therapy.
But I’m talking about those unsung heroes that haven’t ever been trained, but show us their innate ability to care about and for us. When Fido simply starts pawing you when you’re trying to get up… when maybe you shouldn’t.
Or, in my case, when Rascal starts following my every step, I know it’s time to lie down and take a break, and then he’s right there to help with that “task” as well.
Pets have been used in mental health therapy for years, often calming anxiety and stress among their owners. This is true in MS as well. Depression, anxiety, and stress are all common in our population. Pets can help all of these symptoms.
This isn’t just pet owners feeling pride in their “fur babies” and bragging about their pet’s abilities — there’s science behind it.
According to the animal-assisted research by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), just petting animals “releases an automatic relaxation response. Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin — all hormones that can play a part in elevating mood” It’s also been said to:
- lower anxiety, helping people to relax
- provide comfort and decrease loneliness
- increase mental stimulation
And that’s just the mental health perspective.
From a physical health perspective, they found petting animals:
- lowers blood pressure
- improves cardiovascular health
- reduces the amount of medications needed by some people
- slows breathing in anxious people
- releases hormones — like phenylethylamine — which has the same effect as chocolate
- diminished physical pain, overall
Pets offer unconditional love, companionship, and a mood boost that’s scientifically proven. And for many of us MSers, they go beyond that in their care for us.
Maybe it’s time to consider a pooch to help you with your MS symptoms.
Kathy Reagan Young is the founder of the off-center, slightly off-color website and podcast at FUMSnow.com. She and her husband, T.J., daughters, Maggie Mae and Reagan, and dogs Snickers and Rascal, live in southern Virginia and all say “FUMS” everyday!