If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you know that managing your health care team and symptoms can be a full-time job. As a family nurse practitioner living with RA, I have found it difficult to find balance many times on my journey with RA.
I have tried various tips, tricks, and followed a myriad of advice to find a smoother way of life while living with RA. However, since my diagnosis, owning a dog has been one of the most beneficial addition to my life.
My fluffy fur-creature has helped me not only survive but also thrive in many ways. Looking back, I did not notice it directly at the time, but my dog has truly benefited me and my health in countless ways.
Research has shown that interacting with a dog can decrease sadness and increase happiness scores, and I would agree: My dog brings me so much joy. The way she greets me upon arriving home or even just entering a room is unmatched by any human greeting. It’s impossible not to feel warm and fuzzy when your dog greets you. It is also hard to feel sadness in these moments.
Managing a chronic disease like RA can be complex, leaving me little time to nurture relationships in my life. This can lead to loneliness, which is a common complaint among those with RA.
However, I have found a reliable, loving, and cuddly companion in my dog, who has been there for me even in my darkest times. No matter how late I come home, she is excited to see me. Even if I’m tired or in a bad mood, she’s still there to wag her tail and greet me with unconditional love. She doesn’t care if I had a bad day or need a shower either — she is my number one fan!
My dog also reminds me of the value of loyalty in life, especially during difficult times that can test and challenge relationships. Despite any unexpected outcomes, she loves me unconditionally, which is always heartwarming. This is why dogs are called man’s best friend.
In addition to emotional support, my dog also provides physical benefits. Petting her is instantly relaxing and helps me to forget about the problems of the world. A recent study showed reduced levels of the stress hormone, salivary cortisol, in children after animal-assisted interventions.
As someone living with RA, any reduction in stress is welcome, and spending time with my dog is a great way to achieve this.
My dog keeps me active. If I’m not up for formal exercise, I still take my dog for a walk. If she wants to play, I can always muster the energy together to go outside and throw a ball around a few times.
She gets me up out of bed every morning at 5:30 am, even on days when I might not get up until much later (if at all). She keeps me moving, no matter what. With RA, motion is lotion, and I appreciate her helping to keep my joints lubricated.
Besides simply staying active, my dog takes me on more adventures, too. I am more motivated to hike a new trail or see an outdoor landmark when I can bring her along. She simply hops in the car and never complains about how long the ride is or my choice of music, either. She’s a great adventure seeker when it comes to late-night food adventures, too.
My dog reminds me to go to my local big box store, which is where I get her food. She is a large breed and eats a lot. Luckily, my local big box store has an incredible selection of meats and produce so this keeps me in-line with my healthy eating goals. My dog’s optimal diet actually helps to keep me on track, too.
My dog has taught me that material things are replaceable and nothing is as valuable as health and human life. She reinforces this lesson by intermittently chewing on my favorite shoes, ruining a baseboard, or having an accident on the carpet.
Although it’s inconvenient to replace items or clean up after her, it’s a humbling reminder of what truly matters in life.
My dog is always there to provide support, especially when I’m not feeling well. She can sense when I’m in pain or fatigued and adjusts her behavior accordingly, giving extra love and cuddles when I need it most. Not only does this help me feel better, but it also reminds me to practice self-love and prioritize my own well-being.
For those who don’t want to take on the responsibility of owning a pet, there are still ways to reap the benefits of pet interaction, such as searching for cute dog videos online or signing up for dog-watching apps or volunteering opportunities with local rescues or at adoption events, providing opportunities for pet interaction with less direct responsibility.
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Emmungil H, et al. “Assessment of Loneliness in Patients with Inflammatory Arthritis.” International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases. February 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/1756-185X.14041.
Meints, K, et al. “Can Dogs Reduce Stress Levels in School Children? Effects of Dog-Assisted Interventions on Salivary Cortisol in Children with and without Special Educational Needs Using Randomized Controlled Trials.” PLOS ONE. June 15, 2022. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269333.