Pet Therapy for Lupus
The thing with animals is that I feel as though they can sense when you are not feeling well.
When I am sick, upset or crying, Eugene is always the first one at my feet. And although he is fiercely independent, the way a lot of shih tzus are, the moment he notices I am not myself, he will come up and curl beside me until he feels like he can leave me alone in good conscience.
Throughout my life, and increasingly whilst having lupus, I have struggled with clinical depression. When I get sicker it seems to get a lot worse, and sometimes I find myself struggling with racing or very dark thoughts.
Although depressed people are usually not very selfish as a rule, the disease can make you focus on yourself and your body extensively. In addition to depression, I often experience anxiety, particularly if I am not feeling well.
Having a pet, especially one as spirited as Eugene, gives me something else to focus on if I’m having a down day. And although Euge can be a handful to deal with sometimes, I am a tad grateful for something else to focus my mind on.
I’m especially grateful for the giant fluffy little guy who comes and cuddles me when I don’t feel well and lets me know just how special he thinks I am when I am having a really down day. Eugene also has the biggest personality I’ve ever seen from a dog and he keeps me laughing and in high spirits.
Is Pet Ownership Right for Me?
Taking care of animal when you have lupus, though, is a big thing to consider. You need to be sure your animal can be well taken care of, despite your disability.
Although I think it is extremely beneficial to own an animal, it is alive and has needs and desires that you need to be able to fulfill, despite your lupus. I knew I wanted a dog, no question, but I had a few stipulations I needed to fulfill before I got him.
Because I suffer from extreme fatigue and sometimes have bad arthritis, I knew it wouldn’t be fair to get a dog that actually physically needed to be walked or exercised outside every day. While dogs can help you get outdoors even when you’re not feeling well, many small breeds can get their exercise requirements just by playing around the house.
This is partially why I chose a shih tzu, because he doesn’t really need all that much extra exercise. I was also able to train him to go to the bathroom inside on puppy training mats (which some people really dislike, but for me it was necessary to meet his needs while I wasn’t feeling well). But getting an animal means a commitment to meeting his needs for his entire life, so it is absolutely necessary you know you can do it before you take the plunge.
If your lupus makes it impossible to fully jump into pet ownership, you can always volunteer at local pet shelters on your good lupus days. As a volunteer, you’ll likely get your pet therapy by feeding and walking dogs and cats, as well as spend some quality time petting them and loving them. You may even be able to help them find their new home.
The very act of petting an animal can reduce your stress and take your blood pressure down, making you feel even better in the long run. If you’re more of a horse person, consider investing in some horseback riding lessons or take a day out for yourself and a friend to ride on a trail.
I honestly believe that pets are therapeutic and one of the best thing to ever happen to humans; when you have lupus, that amazingness increases tenfold. I am so grateful to have Eugene and that I get to spend quality time with him every day.