Is it Harder to Have a Dog when You’re Chronically Ill? Yes. But I recommend it Anyway!
They say hindsight is 20-20. Would I have rescued our dog 9 years ago knowing that I’d have trouble getting off the couch to feed her many days? Knowing I’d feel guilty for not being able to play with her, walk her, or give her all the love and attention she deserves some times?
Yes, I would adopt Dixie, our dog, 100x over. Balancing a chronic illness, a small business, trying to raise awareness for chronic illness, and be a good dog mom is not easy. In fact, it is really damn hard. But, as I like to say, life is hard, find joy anyway, right? Dixie is more often than not the joy I can find in my day.
Do I sometimes cry because she wants to play and my pain and fatigue are too overwhelming for me to throw a toy for her? Yes. Does she snuggle me on the couch when I’m not feeling well and love me anyway? Yup, she absolutely does.
Chronic Illness is Lonely
My support system is amazing, but that doesn’t mean that life with Multiple Sclerosis and chronic illness isn’t terribly lonely at times. Depression and anxiety can overcome anyone, but those of us with chronic illness are more prone to also have mental health issues too. I know I do.
Countless studies have said that animals are good for your health, but this is just based on my own personal experience. Dixie, my dog, has been my constant companion during flares, surgery recoveries, bad days, and good ones too. She loves me unconditionally (even if I am a little slow with dinner), and never fails to make me rub her belly when I don’t feel well (we joke that this is her cure for every problem). Of course, I still deal with the feelings of loneliness and isolation, but I also feel loved 24/7 but this sweet and sassy little dog of mine. For me, that’s more than worth the extra energy she requires.
Actually, I’m such a crazy dog lover that my husband and I have fostered over 10 other dogs in the last 7 years (most pre-diagnosis). So I have learned a thing or two about taking care of my animals while I’m barely able to take care of myself. Here are some of my best tried and true strategies:
Caring for an Animal When You Can Barely Care for Yourself
Well, you probably knew this was coming, but my best advice is to ask for help! My husband helps a lot, but he works and he’s not home for dinner time feeding/playing/etc. Plus, of course, that’s usually when my fatigue is the worst. I’m grateful that I have some amazing people in my life that can help in a pinch, but I have also learned how to set Dixie and me up for success.
Order your regular pet supplies online! And make sure they’re set to auto-delivery. Why in the world did I spend all of those years going to the pet store every month?! Dixie eats fancy (aka expensive) food and it’s way too heavy for me to carry around. Chewy.com is the best site I’ve found for affordable pricing, plus it has auto-delivery and pet meds too! Now that I took a few minutes to select our favorite product, I don’t have to think about it again. Winning!
We all know that life is WAY too expensive (chronic illness or not), but I’ve found that subscription boxes can actually save you a lot of money! Sure, I get them for me, but did you know you can also get them for your animals?! Genius! Dixie received her first BarkBox for Father’s Day and absolutely loved every single item. Not only did she get double the value I paid ($21, worth over $40) in dog treats and toys, but it saved me a trip to the store to look for new toys to keep her occupied and happy. And I never leave Petsmart spending less than $50 (whoops!).
Stock Up On Your Pups Favs
Just like I always have extra comfort items for myself in case of a bad day, I always have extra items ready for my dog too! She loves Kongs stuffed with peanut butter, pumpkin (not pie filling), extra food, broth (frozen) and basically anything inside those things! I keep an extra (or three) in the freezer at all times to keep her entertained if I can’t. I’ve also found lots of great ideas for easy entertainment for dogs (especially for younger pups, Dixie is older now so she doesn’t have quite as much energy!) on Pinterest too.
Extra squeakers are the BEST if you have a dog like mine who loves to destroy it and never play with the toy again. BarkBox has a tough chewer option, but Dixie really loves to ‘kill’ the squeaker. It makes her so happy when I replace an old ‘dead’ toy with a new squeaker (and it’s super cheap!).
“The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.”Robert Falcon Scott
Possibly even as valuable as the unconditional love, the extra nudge to get up and move around even when I don’t feel like it, and the laughter that my dog brings to my life, are the lessons she teaches me. She reminds me that it’s okay to nap mid-day, you’re never too old to play, and there is always time for belly rubs. Even on the days where everything seems to be too hard to handle, life is better with a dog in it.
If you have an animal in your life and chronic illness, how do you manage both? I’d love to hear your best tips too!