Living Like You | Raising a pet when you have MS

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A finger on a dog’s nose

I won't lie to you, raising a puppy is far from easy. Bringing up a puppy when you're single and have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is, well, you can guess. When living with a chronic disease like MS and raising anything that breathes is a challenge!

My 7-month-old Whippet puppy, Oisín, and I returned from a walk in the park next to my house, and he appeared to be walking me instead of me walking him, proving who the chief walker really was. Thanks to fatigue and other MS symptoms that continue to overcome me, the proud and resilient alpha leader of the pack, I know myself to be, is visibly lacking strength. I can admit, I feel like a flustered omega runt of the litter, following an animal that gets me and my MS better than I do now.

Raising any pet shouldn't feel like a quantum physics theory exam, especially whilst already trying to understand symptoms that don’t make any sense at all. Having said that, whilst you may want to simply enjoy time with your pet, it takes some effort. This applies for all pets, whether you adopt a cat, find a lost dog or care for your family’s parakeets or bunnies. They will gladly mess up your daily routine until you have adapted to each other’s biological clocks and routines.

Naturally, having pets, whilst living with MS, can raise certain questions, which are often difficult to answer, particularly when times are not that good. Questions like when you find yourself in a relapse, need hospitalization or have other family matters that take precedent for a while. It is also important to consider the type of animal you want to raise as a pet. In my opinion, dogs treat you as family, while cats can tend to think of you merely as staff.

In short, I may appear calm, but only until I close the front door behind me. Then there is a lot of craziness to bringing up the mighty Oisin Darragh D’Arcy, Whippet extraordinaire, especially when having what resembles a MS relapse. His bite marks on my arms resemble sketch versions of a Michelangelo painting and I wonder if or when those three-month-old scratch marks will ever disappear. Pins and needles sensations in my arms make me realize that this is what being a worn pin cushion must feel like.

But, when I see Oisín's curious, deep brown, pearl-shaped eyes asking to go for a walk, I just give in, even if it's just spending ten minutes in the park across the road. Both of us will gladly drop half unconscious onto my bed to doze off for a few hours once we get home.

Now, raising a pet while having MS can go both ways, good or bad. Remember, getting a pet should add joy to your life, not make it worse. So weighing up your symptoms and what a pet can add to your life needs to be done with a clear mind before you make this long-term commitment.

Having trigeminal neuralgia and sound sensitivity is an issue. However, with some training and adaptation to old routines, Oisín’s body language warns me when he’s voicing his discontent. For example, I can tell from his behavior when he wants to go to the garden, come right back in, pretend he did his duty, and therefore deserves a treat. He equally knows how to open doors and help me fill the washing machine with laundry. When I cannot seem to warm up my legs, he crawls under the duvet with me and lies against them. I like to consider having a pet as a form of holistic treatment.

In short, since Oisín came into my life six months ago, MS has taken up less time in my mind, regardless of the prominent level of physical pain. A more perfect, affectionate, funny and holistic antidote is hard to find.

For Willeke, raising her pet has helped with managing her MS. and is one of many types of holistic treatments available. For Birgit, this is often meditation. To find out more about meditation and MS, read here.


5 Benefits of having a pet when you have multiple sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis News Today

These dogs know when their owner are about to have an MS flare, Healthline

Emotional support animals for MS, WebMD

Multiple sclerosis symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic

Paresthesia information page, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Trigeminal neuralgia fact sheet, NINDS



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