Pets and MS

If you are a pet owner, you'll know that they can be wonderful companions and a source of much love and joy. Dogs, cats, birds or reptiles, they all have their fans. Some specially trained animals can even assist with household tasks and help keep you safe and independent.

However, caring for a pet can also pose some challenges, such as feeding, grooming, walking, cleaning and vet visits. If you have a disability and own a pet, or are thinking of getting one, you may need some extra help to ensure your pet’s wellbeing and your own. 

Animals don't judge you. They accept you for who you are.


Are pets good for your health?

People and their pets can often form close bonds. Research has shown that pets provide emotional comfort which can help with managing stress or mental health concerns. Pet owners often report that the non-judgemental affection that comes from a trusting pet is particularly valued. 

A pet can also be a companion, alleviating loneliness or feelings of isolation. Pet owners talk about their pet helping to make their living space feel more homely, and the enjoyment of receiving an enthusiastic welcome home! For many pet owners with MS, their pet is something to concentrate on that isn't MS, that helps to make them feel confident and responsible.

Some pets such as dogs or horses need regular exercise. By meeting their need for activity, their owners usually spend more time active as well. Regular walks and rides help you get out and about. Even if you use a wheelchair or power scooter, the regular routine of getting out for a daily walk and fresh air is beneficial.

spaniel sitting in woodland

Could an assistance pet help me?

Assistance pets are normally dogs, although you might also find therapy cats, guide horses and other assistance animals.

Assistance pets can be trained to support people with sensory disabilities by helping navigate their surroundings or alert them to dangers or events that they might miss. For example, a hearing support dog can alert their owner to a knock on the door, or a sight assistance dog can guide their person around obstacles in the street. In this way, the assistance dog provides increased confidence and safety when out and about.

Some assistance pets can be trained to help people with mobility restrictions with small personal or household tasks, such as picking up dropped objects or helping remove socks. Assistance pets are also commonly trained to offer emotional support, or support with autism or learning needs. Support pets may visit residential centres where people without pets can get the benefit of meeting calm and well trained animals.

The Assistance Dogs organisation represents many accredited assistance dog projects, including Guide Dogs, Canine Partners, Dogs for Good and many more. While most focus on training puppies to go to people with disabilities, Dog AID can train your existing pet dog to help you. You can search the Assistance Dogs website to find out which organisation might be best for your situation. 

Can I get help with pet care?

If you are a pet owner, you may be worried that your MS may make it more difficult to care properly for your pet. The cost of veterinary care can also be a concern. There are several charities and organisations that can help you keep your pet healthy.

  • PDSA: (The Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals) This is a charity that provides free or low-cost veterinary care for pets of people who receive some benefits. They also offer advice and information on pet health and welfare. You can check your eligibility on their website. If you do not live close to a PDSA pet hospital, you may be able to use their affordable Pet Care plan through a local participating vet.
  • The Cinnamon Trust is a charity that helps older people and people with terminal illnesses keep their pets. They offer services such as dog walking, pet fostering, pet-friendly care homes and bereavement support. You can contact them on 01736 757 900 or visit their website.
  • RSPCA: This is a charity that rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes animals in need. They also offer advice and support on animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, and their advice team may be able to help you find ways to reduce vet bills. You can contact them on 0300 1234 999.
  • Cats Protection: This charity runs a reduced cost neutering and microchipping scheme for cats.
  • Pet care services: Look out for businesses or individuals that offer professional pet care services in your area. They may offer services such as dog walking, pet sitting, grooming, training and vet transport. You will normally need to pay a fee. You could ask for recommendations from your friends, family or vet.

Pet share schemes such as Borrow My Doggy allow you to find local people who would like to walk your dog or spend time with them. This could help make sure your dog gets exercise if you aren't able to manage it. If you would like to trial having a pet, or would like to get the benefit of a regular walk without all the responsibility of ownership, then joining a pet share scheme could be suitable for you too.

Find out more

Here are some personal stories of life with MS and a pet.

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