Did you know that Shih Tzus were bred to be foot warmers for the royalty in China? My little dog, Gracie, is a living foot warmer. She loves snuggling up to people, particularly their feet. She’ll even trip you when you try to get up!
I got my fluffy pooch 12 years ago, a few months before my juvenile arthritis (JA) became severe. The years that followed were rough, especially dealing with complications from medicines and the disease itself. It might sound odd, but I’m so glad that we got Gracie in time for those hard years. She’s always so happy, whether she’s playing or cuddling up in front of the TV. And Gracie never leaves my side on the awful days. Many quiet, painful days would have been far lonelier if it hadn’t been for my furry sidekick.
I believe that the companionship a pet can bring to a child with JA is priceless. Unfortunately, people with chronic pain often experience loneliness because their condition makes it hard to leave the house or hang out with others. Having a furry friend can bring so much joy and energy into a home.
Even small pets, like hamsters and birds, provide excellent companionship. I know a few people who read or do homework with guinea pigs in their laps. Having someone to sit with you can be so comforting, especially when you’re feeling unwell.
But beyond providing company, pets can also inspire us to keep moving. Kids with JA can benefit from that push to get up to play or go for walks. It’s a little easier to motivate yourself to go for a short stroll when you know Fido is looking forward to his daily walk. Teasing a cat with some string, playing with a hamster in its plastic ball, and cleaning out a rabbit’s cage are activities that keep you moving.
Pets aren’t one-size-fits-all
As much as I love animals, I have a hard time coping with some people’s pets. Large and heavy dogs can cause me pain when they jump up on me. And it can be hard for me to handle high energy dogs because I’m not strong enough to keep control of the leash.
Not everyone with JA will face those issues. I know many people with arthritis who adore their big dogs and use them as weighted blankets and heating pads when cuddling. But if you are considering getting a pet for your child with JA, it’s essential to consider how a specific animal will affect your child, and whether your child can handle the demands of a particular pet. Caring for a hamster is easier than caring for a Saint Bernard!
Gracie is perfect for me because she’s lightweight. She can jump up on me without knocking me down or causing pain. She’s also a very calm, lazy dog, so taking her on walks and playing fetch aren’t too intense for me. Overall, she’s relatively low-maintenance.
Something to consider
If you’re considering getting your child a dog, I highly recommend obedience training. Puppies, in particular, can benefit from these classes, which can teach them to be calm and not to jump up on others. The classes can also make them easier to handle on walks because they learn not to tug on the leash.
Whether you’re considering a dog, cat, or smaller pet, consider adopting an adult or elderly pet. They tend to be calmer. And older dogs can learn new tricks and be trained if needed. What better way to start the new year than to give a shelter animal a loving forever home?
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.