Pros and Cons of Pet Ownership with Arthritis

Pets can bring a lot of joy and benefit to a person’s life – from emotional connection to enhanced quality of life to unconditional love and support. Owning a pet can also promote an active lifestyle, as they require walks and playtime. Pets can distract from stress and worry, remind people to appreciate the simple things in life, and bring laughter and a sense of purpose.

The benefits are also backed by science. Studies have revealed that the bond between people and their pets is linked to decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the many benefits of pet ownership, people living with chronic diseases, like arthritis, can face challenges when caring for pets. Though, that doesn’t make owning a pet impossible. It is essential for people to consider how their arthritis symptoms may impact their ability to care for specific pets. Find out what members of Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board have to say about the pros of pet ownership and how they navigate difficulties associated with caring for their furry friends.  

Movement Motivators

Research shows that staying active plays an important role in managing arthritis pain and inflammation and reducing the risk of serious complications like heart attacks and strokes. Yet many people with arthritis do not meet recommended physical activity levels.

“It’s no secret that moving more and sitting less is important for a healthy body, heart, and mind,” said Dr. Linda Li, a Senior Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada. “But even with these benefits, about 50 per cent of people in Canada are not physically active during their free time, and the rate is even lower in people with arthritis.”

Pain, fatigue, or being unsure about how to exercise safely can lead to a sedentary lifestyle in people with arthritis. However, owning a pet, like a dog, can help get people moving.

Megan Thomas

Steve shares that having two dogs keeps him and his partner active. They take multiple walks every day and spend a lot of time outdoors. While it can be challenging at times, especially with two energetic pets, Steve appreciates having a supportive partner who can help take care of the dogs when he’s struggling.

Chris specifically looked for a dog that would motivate him to stay active, hence choosing a pointer breed, which is known for being high-energy. Having a pet gives him another reason to stay active, whether it’s through walking, hiking, or even swimming together.

Source of Emotional Support

Over six million Canadians, young and old, struggle with the pain and disability of arthritis. But did you know that people with arthritis are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression than people without arthritis? It is important for people with arthritis to take care of both their physical and mental health and pets can be strong sources of emotional support.

One study found that after a year of living with an emotional support animal, participants had “considerably improved anxiety, depression and loneliness scores.” However, this is still a new area of research. Many countries, including Canada, are starting to officially recognize emotional support animals, but not all countries or provinces have the same laws.

According to Alison, having a dog brings her joy and enhances her quality of life. Regardless of the weather, her dog motivates her to get outside for walks. Just watching her pet enjoy life brings a smile to Alison’s face.

Chris values the connection he shares with his dog. The emotional support provided by his furry friend brings him happiness and helps distract him from excessive worrying.

Sandra finds that having a pet, in particular her dog Moose, greatly benefits her mental health. Laughter and a sense of purpose are part of her daily life, thanks to her furry companion. Moose provides her with unconditional love and is always there, eagerly anticipating the good in life.

Pet Ownership: A Two-Way Street

While pets can help meet the needs of people living with arthritis, they too have needs. Before bringing an animal home, people should consider its needs, as well as any arthritis symptoms that could make caring for a pet challenging.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How much daily exercise does the pet require? If they are high-energy and need to run several times each day and you struggle with knee osteoarthritis pain, for example, this type of pet or breed might not be the right choice.
  • Do you have a hard time lifting heavy objects? Choosing a smaller pet might be the right choice.
  • Do you work full-time or live on disability? Caring for some pets can be expensive, so weighting the financial impact should be part of choosing a pet. Illness and unexpected veterinary visits can be costly.
  • Do you have an autoimmune type of arthritis? Some animals might put you at risk for contracting specific diseases.
  • What care routine does the pet need? Can you handle that level of commitment or will it add to your current stress levels?
  • Do you have someone to help you care for your pet, especially if it is a dog, when you are experiencing an arthritis flare? Arthritis comes with uncertainty in daily life, but pets require consistency. It helps to have a plan for those days that are more challenging.

Pet ownership is a big commitment for anyone. Arthritis can complicate pet ownership, but there are ways to make it easier – for example, adapting games and interactions to accommodate physical limitations or opting for shorter walks and choosing the right tools.

Steve focuses on finding new games or alternative ways to engage with his dogs. On tougher days, he takes shorter walks with his older dog, Maggie, who also has arthritis.

Alison ensures she uses a leash with a thick, soft handle for comfortable grip and manages to clean and care for her smaller dog, which she can easily lift

Chris acknowledges that there are days when staying active with his dog is impossible due to flares. On such days, his dog becomes a comforting presence, offering companionship on the couch.

Sandra experiences difficulties due to her arthritis, especially when it comes to bending over and fatigue. Sandra adjusts her care routine on days she feels awful, substituting walks with indoor games and enriching her pets’ environment to keep them mentally stimulated. Despite her autoimmune disorder, Sandra believes in getting tasks done when she feels well enough, usually in the morning, acknowledging that procrastination can lead to greater difficulties.

The benefits of pet ownership should outweigh the stresses. Carefully choose a pet that won’t compromise your health or ability to manage your arthritis symptoms. Pets should bring joy, promote an active lifestyle and provide emotional support.

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