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The many benefits of owning a pet when living with MS
Anyone who has had the joy of owning a pet will tell you the amount of laughter and unconditional love they provide throughout the years. I remember our Husky/Doberman crossbreed who as a pup used to stand behind me while trying out his wolf-like howl, making me drop whatever I was holding in my hands because I never heard him coming. Wolf grew up to be a fantastic dog who gave me a lifetime of friendship, and also a lot of feel-good days, that to this day are still talked about and remembered as if he were still alive.
Since emigrating to Ireland, I haven’t owned a dog, and it shows. I often remind friends who own dogs my babysitting services are free of charge, as long as I can spend some time with their canines and go for walks. They get to spend some time away from their pets, and I get my mental and emotional needs looked after. And as it turns out, pets have science on their side in research studies, as some suggest owning for one’s health .
For people who spend a lot of time indoors or by themselves, the companionship of cats and dogs can promote a feeling of well-being. Loneliness, anxiety, depression and isolation are reduced by having an animal around and by having to care for them. Receiving unconditional love from pets enhances self-esteem and self-worth and reduces depression.
Certain research studies have shown that people who own pets visit the doctor less often, feel less stressed, are more active and have healthier hearts. Walking a dog, for example, also has social interaction benefits, as it is easier to talk to strangers who either have a dog themselves or stop to admire your dog, than when you’re walking without one. During my dog’s lifetime, several people walked over or asked from across the street what kind of breed he was, because as his name suggested, he looked like a real wolf. I doubt those people would have stopped to talk to me people had I been walking there without my dog!
Another advantage of owning and, in fact, even having a dog in the room with you can lower your blood pressure. Stroking a pet can lower cholesterol as well as blood pressure . Other ways dogs can motivate you is by helping you wake up and go for a morning walk. They make you exercise without even realizing you’re doing it.
Because multiple sclerosis and limited mobility directly affects all sides of quality of life, a pilot study of service dogs and gait dysfunction found an improvement in speed when people walked with a service dog compared to walking alone. The authors of the study now hope that more research will be done regarding mobility and service dogs.
Pets are also valued in other therapeutic and rehabilitative settings and provide love, companionship and friendship to people with disabilities. Some dogs are trained in special activities to help people with MS.
MS balance dogs are trained to help people with MS sit up or get out of bed when they experience instability and loss of balance issues. They can often sense when you get tired, and will guide you towards a place you can lean on or sit down. The help they give is immeasurable and cannot be underestimated.
Before making an uninformed decision and jumping into the deep end and getting a pet, there are some considerations to think about. What kind of pet do you want? Big or small; already well-trained or not; one which requires much activity and walking or a calmer dog; short or long-haired: it’s good to know beforehand what you’re looking for in a pet. Also, if you’ve never owned a pet, see if you can spend some time with your friends’ pets to experience what living with pets is like.
In the end, each case should be evaluated on its own merit. If you do choose a pet, enjoy the times you have together because they are “not just a pet,” they are part of your family.
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