Coffee with Esther (February 2023)

The Joys of Owning a Pet

This month I was only able to do two out of the three virtual coffee breaks due to my little furballs feeling poorly.

First, my small dog was very sick and unwell, and then my bigger dog had a mini-stroke. It’s been very stressful for me and my pets, and I felt angry not being able to care for them without support from my family and friends. The worry I might lose my best friends altogether made me feel exhausted and stressed. When I’m feeling like this, my condition goes into overdrive and the pain is worse.

dog named fudge with a grey jumper on
medium sized dog named Holly smiling at the camera

Both my pets give me so much joy and pleasure. Without my two dogs at my side, I’d be very lonely and find the isolation very hard to cope with. We call the larger dog my ‘assistant dog’ as she is always checking on me, making sure I’m ok, which is adorable. I’m hoping she makes a full recovery from the mini-stroke, but she does have some neurological damage from it, so we now both sit, jerk, and twitch our legs together.

This got me thinking: is it right to have pets when you have a chronic condition? The conclusion of the studies I have read all confirmed that it is indeed a good idea to have a pet or pets in our lives.

So if you are a dog lover like me, or a cat person, or have a strange and wonderful pet like a snake, all of them can help us to have a better life.

But before you impulsively rush out to buy a pet, please take time to think, do your research, and work out which is the best pet for you.

Pros for a Pet:

  • Pets can help with illness and mental health conditions. Pets can lower your stress levels and can help us to relax. From stroking their fur to watching fish swim around their tank, pets can reduce our stress levels and lower our blood pressure, which is very important when you are in constant pain.

    They can also help with mental health. Dr Helen Louise Brooks, from the University of Liverpool, UK, said, “Pet ownership has a valuable contribution to mental health and should be incorporated into a care plan for patients with a chronic illness”.
  • A reason to live. Depression is a cruel condition, making you feel like the world would be a better place if you weren’t here. Having a pet can give us a reason to continue and fight the condition. They can give you the love you need to get through each day.
  • Sense of purpose. Pets can be a reason to get out of bed, or even out of the house (if you are well enough to do this). They can give you a feeling of self-worth and a sense of identity.
  • Joy and happiness. Animals can be so funny and entertaining, bringing such joy into your life. They’re always happy to see you and interact with you. Pets make us smile. How many of you have sat and watched videos of pets doing the funniest things? You just can’t help but smile when you are watching them!

Cons for a Pet:

  • Time consumption. You have to think about the amount of time your pet will need from you. You have to also consider the extra time cleaning for them. Can you manage the cleaning? Will this pet be creating more cleaning in the house? Can you do this? If you can’t, can you afford to get someone to help you? Can a family member help you?

    Also, you have to think about the commitment to a pet. The average lifespan for a dog or a cat is between 10 and 18 years; can you commit yourself for that long? Would you be able to cope later if your condition got worse, or if they became ill too? Would a rehomed pet be better? An older pet that needs less attention and more love and cuddles in their retirement age?
  • More living expenses. Pets cost money. You have to consider this when you are deciding which pet is best for you. Don’t just think about the buying cost. You have to think about the ongoing expenses and future costs like vet bills or medication. Vet bills can be very expensive; can you afford the insurance for the pet? Could you afford any medication the pet may need? This could include anything from yearly vaccinations to medication for a health condition.
  • Care for them, when you are physically unable to care for them. You have to think about the days you may not be able to look after them due to your condition. I have a dog walker as I am unable to walk my dogs. I must make sure I can afford to pay her because without her I would have to consider rehoming my dogs. This would devastate me and I think it would do psychological damage to me and my dogs. I am unable to drive, so if I need to get to a vet I have to rely on other people to take us. I normally ask my husband, but in emergencies, or when he is at work, I have a list of people I can call to take me.

As you can see, there are lots of pros and cons, but if you can overcome the cons, the pros outweigh them. I love my two furballs so much.

The next thing you have to decide is which is the right pet for you. I have always had dogs in my home. At one stage, when I was a child, we had 10 dogs, 20 ferrets, 2 cats, 1 snake and a hamster. We lived in the countryside and most of the animals were working animals, not pets. The dogs were my ‘go-to’ pet; I just love what they can offer to a person and enjoy their company so much.

small parrot named cheeky on its perch
two ginger cats laying on their female owner

So, getting the right pet for you and the things you need to consider.

  • Is your home suitable for that pet?
  • Can you afford ALL the costs involved?
  • Can you care for all of the needs of the pet, or can someone help you constantly?
  • Will the personality of this pet fit into your lifestyle?
  • Will you be able to control this pet and be able to cope with any behavioural issues?
  • Can you provide the grooming they may need?
  • What would happen if you wanted to take a vacation? Can you afford the extra cost of pet sitting, or can you rely on someone to help you out?

Think about what is the best pet for you; don’t just buy a pet because you think it is cute. Do your research, and never impulse buy. Remember, for example, a Jack Russell dog needs a lot of exercise and playtime to stop them from becoming bored. Whereas a rat loves social interaction with people but doesn’t need to leave the house. I have heard a parrot is very good company and doesn’t need long walks, plus they love to have a chat with you.

I hope this has helped anyone thinking about getting a pet, and how they can help you live a better life. During the Virtual Coffee Breaks, we always get a little pet wanting to come into the conversations. It is fabulous to see them all.

The Virtual Coffee Breaks, which are on the Support Group’s Facebook page, in February and March are as follows:

  • 16th February at 6pm GMT

I hope to see you all soon,