A woman sleeps on the couch while a dog waits at the door to go outside.

Caring for Pets When Disabled

Finding out I have ankylosing spondylitis was terrifying because I had no idea how it would affect my life. I lost friends and couldn't go to school anymore. It became impossible to find a job. I felt like AS had taken over my life. Not only did it impact all the major aspects of my life, but it also affected my relationship with my pets.

I have a cat and a dog. They brighten up every day and always know how to cheer me up. I love them dearly and know they love me the same. While they are family pets, I am their primary caregiver. I used to be able to consistently care for them. But now I can't brush their teeth and fur as often. Scooping my cat's litter box has become an arduous task. This often makes me feel guilty, I feel as if I am neglecting them. It makes me wish they had an owner who could give them everything they deserve.

Walks are harder now

Unfortunately, AS also affected going on walks with my dog. Walking my dog used to be an exciting activity for me and him, but now I can't walk him as frequently or go long distances. In fact, I can't even walk moderate distances with him anymore. I see that he is more restless now than before I had AS and it makes me sad.

Having an invisible chronic illness is a highly emotional experience. There is guilt, grief, sadness, anxiety, shame, etc. Not being able to take care of my pets as I once could contribute to the guilt I carry with me all the time.

My family helps, but I feel guilty

Don't get me wrong, my family helps out a lot. My dad feeds them and my mom lets the dog out in the backyard. My sister plays with them, brushes them, and buys them countless toys and treats. The pets are always taken care of. I've just got to learn to accept that I can't do as much as I once did and that's okay. I am learning to let go of the guilt and appreciate all the extra time we get for cuddles.

My pets help so much with my illnesses. They keep me company and help me stay present. My dynamic disability means constantly adapting and readjusting according to my pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. So my pets and I have also found a way to adapt and readjust and make things work for us.

I often wish I had seen or heard something about having pets and caring for them when you're disabled. Not in the context of service animals or emotional support animals, but just having family pets. I hope that reading this lets someone else disabled know that your relationship with your pets might change, but their love and support will not falter.

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