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Is It Wise to Have a Pet When You're Chronically Ill?


There is increasingly strong evidence that sharing our life with a pet has important health benefits. Anybody who has one or more will tell you that their dog, cat, bird, rabbit or any other creature is the apple of their eye. This is especially true for those of us who are housebound because of illness. Some people have told me that they were surprised that I have a dog. They ask how I can care for her when I can barely manage to care for my close relationships, my home with my husband, and myself.

As I was thinking about what I would say on the subject, I came across a thread in one of our wonderful Facebook support groups. Someone asked whether it is wise to own a pet when one is struggling with chronic illness. The responses came in great numbers! So, I decided to base this article on some of the comments that express just what our animal companions mean to us. As you can imagine, there were several pictures of those precious friends, each cuter and sweeter than the other!

The following statements are inspired from some of the responses:

“My dog is great company and a wonderful comfort on bad pain days.”

“My pets are the best medicine; they are always at my side.”

“It’s more fun taking care of doggie than doing housework.”

“Getting a pet is the best thing I ever did!”

“I could not live without my pets.”

“Pets have a calming effect.”

“Couldn’t cope without my sweet little dog. She’s a rescue, but really, she saved me! My dog knows when I’m having a bad day and he lies next to me to comfort me.”

“They give so much love, just like having an angel around.”

“Pets provide daily fun and laughter.”

“My cat is glued to my side most of the time and I love it.”

While many comments warned about not getting a puppy, which requires a lot of energy to train, others advised to get a small, lower energy dog (if it’s a dog you want) so that he would be happy with your lifestyle. Cats are better, some say, easier to care for. It is also important to note that dogs, even small ones, must have a walk every day to be happy and balanced, so you need a support system for when you’re not up to it.

My little dog goes out with me for about 10 minutes in the morning; she does most of the walking as I just slowly pace and breathe deeply. In the house, she has toys that I throw once in a while; she loves to fetch! My husband plays with her every day and takes her for a 15 minute walk before bed. She makes her wants and needs very clear, but when all is said and done, my little dog brings me so much sweetness, laughter, comfort and love that I really do feel that she helps me heal that part of me that needs to be needed, to be connected to each moment, to life.

Animals are natural healers. They live in the now, they love unconditionally and make you laugh every single day. They keep your feet warm and your heart content as they snuggle close, so close. The joy they bring to our life far outweighs the energy we spend on them. In fact, many times during the day, my dog makes me get up and move when I would rather stay in my recliner – but that is a good thing! It keeps me from aggravating my circulation issues. Besides, there’s one thing for sure: no one comes near my house without me knowing about it. No doorbell is needed.

It’s fair to say that I have a nurse, confidante, foot warmer, entertainer, comforter and security detail all rolled-up in a cute little bundle of fur.

If you don’t own a pet because you can’t, then try to go and pet someone else’s dog or cat, goat or horse, and feel the calm and the joy enter your body as your pulse slows down and those happiness hormones bring a smile to your face. You can also get a similar effect by watching cute pet videos online – there are so many of them that will make you “awww” or laugh out loud.

Looking into the inscrutable depth of their eyes, we are reminded by our healing friends that life is good.

Getty Image by nautiluz56