Pets and chronic illness can be a match made in heaven, or a more difficult scenario in my experience. I wouldn't be without my cat, and he brings me so much joy, but there is definitely a lot of thinking to be done before you welcome a furry friend, or one with feathers or scales, if you live with health conditions.
This post on pets and chronic illness is written as part of the February linkup party hosted by the very lovely Sheryl of A Chronic Voice. Go check out the other entries, as I know I will be!
Pets can be very defining of your life I find, or at least some pets. Perhaps an iguana doesn't need too much attention in the day, but a hyperactive puppy (as my friends Sheryl and Shruti definitely know!) will be a big part of daily life.
There are many things to consider about getting a pet when you live with chronic illness. Some of the key ones are:
1. Can you afford it? Pets are expensive, and sudden emergency vet fees as I just paid out for, can't be planned or foreseen. And of course that would be on top of the regular 'pet stuff' you need, like food!
2. Can you cope with the cleaning, grooming and general maintenance of a pet? Most pets need some kind of care like brushing, as well as cleaning out litter boxes, bird cages or whatever they use during the day.
3. Can you exercise your pet if necessary? While a tortoise won't need a walk around the block, a dog definitely will do, at least most days.
4. Can you cope with a very active pet generally? Personally, general pain levels plus vestibular migraine would mean that a very 'jumpy' dog or one that wanted to be all over me would overwhelm me. I need a slightly slower-living pet to go along with my conditions.
5. Can you train a pet if they need it (mostly dogs). Do you have the time to go to puppy classes or do so on your own at home? Are you able to be active enough to teach your pet how to behave? This would be more difficult, I would imagine, if you live alone with a condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome or more severe dysautonomia when getting up and down a lot would be challenging for you.
6. Are you allergic to a potential pet? Would cat or dog fur cause a reaction, or worsen eczema or other condition? My sister had to return two kittens after a day that she had adopted because of a huge skin reaction from them. She was heartbroken, to say the least.
This month I have been allocating time to my cat. I think most pet owners will know the positive benefits of having a furry, fluffy, or even scaly companion. They really become a part of the family and my cat has definitely been such a comfort during lockdown.
My cat has taught me about companionship and how it doesn't have to be in human form! He is my loyal little sidekick, following me from room to room (especially when it is near his dinner time), curling up next to me and purring away when he content.
Animals have a real power in uniting families I feel. Perhaps they are divisive in some too, but in my family my cat is the central focus (other than the kids). He makes my nieces laugh, has prevented full blown meltdowns from the toddler and magically makes the pain from a cut knee forgotten when he goes over for some attention. My all-time favourite video is of my then one year old niece laughing in a way that she hadn't ever before as my cat jumped up to catch a piece of balled up paper.
Does my cat help me with saving money? Heck no. Let's face it, pets can be expensive and I learnt this the hard way this past month. On top of cat food, litter and yearly vaccinations and check-ups, pets can bring us unexpected vet bills. I sat in my car on a very cold and dark Monday night wondering what was wrong, then after being told what was wrong wondering how much it was going to cost. Most vet visits are well into three figures, and this one definitely was.
I do think that my cat has been educating me in a way. He has taught me to relax, when he is sitting at my feet curled up and purring away, such that I daren't move to disturb him. It's like forced relaxation when I pick up a book or watch TV rather than doing housework or other tasks that I know I am too tired for, but feel I should get on top of.
He has also taught me to have fun. That childlike fun of playing with a piece of string, a balled up paper that he chases around the living room or dashes up and down the stairs just for the sake of it. Sometimes fun can be lost when you live with chronic illness, but pets can help bring a smile to your face and a silly moment that is better than anything else that has happened in the whole day.
Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, and this post, as well as all other posts on this blog, are for informational purposes only.