Got Pets? In Flare? Try These Tips for the Same Level of Care
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Pets are so lovely when I’m having a Rheumatoid Arthritis flare. They lift my spirits, they take care of me, they’re the reason I don’t tear my hair out every day. But, sometimes, their wellness just doesn’t mix well with my condition. Taking care of cats and dogs is very physical work and when I’m in flare…Fuel on the fire.

At the time of my diagnosis I had four pets (two dogs and two cats) and there was no way I was going to give them up. Thankfully, I had family and friends who were willing to help out occasionally but at the end of the day, my pets were my responsibility and I had to care for them.

I am a pre-vet student so pets are kind of nonnegotiable. Would I want less than four pets? No way. It’s a well-rounded number that forms its own little pack.

I actually have it very easy because Marmalade, Sunsilk, Affie, Saachi (deceased), and now Mocha are extremely low maintenance and self-sufficient. Sure, I have to feed and walk them, clean their litter box and cook their food (the dogs eat a home-cooked diet); but, for the most part, as long as they have access to their water, toys, food, and each other they don’t want me! I’ll be honest, though, when they act up (at the exact same time, of course) as well as get sick in a group, taking care of them is no joke. And, it gets less hysterical when I myself am ill.

It is very important for me to still give my pets the same level of care even when I am not 100% so I’ve come up with some “hacks”, or easier ways, to take care of my pets when I’m in flare:

  1. Don’t keep a strict schedule:
  2. Every trainer says the same thing: vary a puppy’s schedule so if you can’t make it home at exactly 5:05pm to feed Fido he doesn’t destroy things out of angst.
    This is even more important for people with chronic illnesses. What if we just can’t open that tin of food or we need to rest before walking the dog? We don’t want Fido urinating and defecating all over the house. Because, a) yuck! and b) how many spoons is that going to take to clean up?!
    Now, I’m not saying if you feed your dog at 5pm it’s okay to wait until 8 but having a small window can make a world of difference.

  3. Prepare food ahead of time.
  4. I can’t predict flare-ups so on a good day, I section food into separate Ziploc bags so it’s easy to dump the food right into the bowl. Refrigerate canned food so it doesn’t go bad.

  5. Use a tether.
  6. Walking the dog is the one thing I dread during flares. A tether for the backyard is a life saver in this situation. I use a long tether so Mocha and Affie have access to my entire yard. They get their exercise, do their business, enjoy romping around in the fresh air and I don’t have to worry about them escaping!

  7. Pet harnesses are your new best friends.
  8. On that same note, my dogs wear harnesses to protect their necks on walks and in the yard. Harnesses are also great because they can stay on all day.
    If you choose to take it on and off, train Fluffy to jump up on a designated chair so you don’t have to bend down.
    Unfortunately, your average harness has a myriad of buckles and straps and is not particularly joint friendly. Find a Velcro one that you can easily slap on and keep on for those more painful days!

What do you think of these tips? Do you have any more? I would love to hear them!

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18 comments on “Got Pets? In Flare? Try These Tips for the Same Level of Care

  1. animallover says:

    I use a belt around waist/hips as my hands are not good. It is done up with velcro so if dog pulls it just opens. The dog lead attaches to the belt on the side. I still hold lead but if he pulls and hands arnt working well I have still have control and he carnt run off. I find this gives me security when walking.

  2. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Thank you for sharing, animallover! I wrap the leash around my waist for training purposes but oddly, I never think of it for walks! I will definitely try this as my hands are not functioning well due to the cold weather.

    All the best, Monica (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member)

  3. Leena says:

    UPDATE: The Guide Dog Foundation told me earlier this evening that I do NOT qualify for a dog.
    1. They don’t use hypo-allergenic dogs. I said I can get allergy medication.
    2. They don’t train the dogs for electric wheelchairs anymore. I said that I was just letting them know of the possibility in the future and that I don’t even own an electric wheelchair yet.
    3. Dog training requires more manipulation with my hands than he thinks that I’m capable o doing.
    4. I have too many flare ups that force me to be in bed. Despite telling him that no matter how bad I felt, I’d drag myself out of bed if necessary to ensure the dog was toileted. But a young dog would need more interaction than you can give on the bad days so NO… no dog for you.

    I told him that they need to revamp their website because they advertised that they work with electric wheelchairs and “special needs” cases. I told him to please have that done ASAP so others don’t get their sliver of hope shattered like he just shattered mine.

    Oh well, at least I have my hospital bed and lift chair recliner IN MY OWN HOME even if I can’t get out and about. (No, Medicaid you’re not putting this 44 yr old in a nursing home!!)

  4. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Hi Leena,

    I am so sorry about Tigger! I know how difficult it is to lose a beloved pet and feel the repercussions through our chronic illnesses.

    Please do not apologize for venting and thank you for reaching out to us for support! We encourage you to contact in-person options like support groups and counselors. The Arthritis Foundation can direct you to local ones and people who can help you navigate service dog applications in your area. (www.arthritis.org – 1 800 283 7800).

    Please reach out to us any time!
    ~Monica (RheumatoidArthritis.net Moderator)

  5. ncanterbury says:

    Your ideas are very helpful! Our feeding is 5:00 and often I’m late getting home or I just forget the time. I have two dogs and two cats also. I do keep dry food available but they all expect can food daily. I love my pets and I was feeling so quilty of not being time. Thank yours!

  6. Weaselbum says:

    Thanks for all the hints and tips. I am lucky that my RA doesnt, as yet, prevent me from enjoying pet ownership and totally agree with you that our animal companions are an essential part of life.
    Your story really touched me, as you have obviously made a huge effort to endure your furry brood keeps a top quality of life.
    I just wanted to share how much my dog, Lily, contributes to my wellbeing. I get painful feet and ankles, but walking her every day helps to keep me mobile. On days when I have the RA blues she makes me get out and about and I feel better for it. I have worried in the past about how I would vppe if my condition worsened, and you have helped me feel more confident about managing if that should happen. Thanks again and best wishes to the furries!

  7. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Hi Weaselbum!

    Thank you so much for commenting on my first post! I agree wholeheartedly, my pets contribute so much to my well being. I honestly have no idea how I would have navigated my RA/RD without them.

    What kind of dog is Lily? Mocha is a hound mix and just turned one..She is extremely high energy and I’m just hoping that, at two, she calms down (apparently two is the magic number!)

    Thanks again!
    ~Monica

  8. Leena says:

    I read through your comments and I just lost my ancient “pain cuddle buddy” (kitty), Tigger, on December 28th. A week later we had that horrible storm and I flared AND came down with a virus and upper respiratory infection. Since I don’t have my cuddle buddy any more my flares have been more difficult to manage emotionally. I actually bought a stuffed kitty that looks like her so I have my “Tiggy” to rest on my chest when I feel bad or need t sleep. She used to do that.

    Thank you so much for this article because it came at the perfect time. Tigger required a lot of care from me, especially near the end where I syringe fed her mother’s milk and administered medications 2 -3x/day. After her passing I decided that I was done looking for a guide dog school and that I’d actually APPLY to one. I’m well beyond legally blind in addition to my RA, Inflammatory Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia. I found one school that offers cross-trained guide dogs for special needs clients. Fortunately I’m a veteran because these dogs come from America’s VetDogs.

    I spoke with the representative from The Guide Dog Foundation in NY last week. I explained that I won’t be able to use my white cane much longer because I keep dropping it. Apparently that threw up a red flag because now he’s concerned that my hands are too damaged to properly use the harness without possibly losing control of the dog if it pulls away from me. I found a harness company and will be contacting them about possible accommodations for my situation. I’m praying they can help answer this question.

    Another issue he raised was whether or not I could toilet the dog 5x/day. I told him that I would ask my development if they could completely enclose our little back yard with the privacy fencing they use. Right now they’re converting from two simple strips of privacy fencing to an “L” shaped section. I’m praying that they’ll allow this accommodation IF I can get a dog. This way I can let the dog out into a secure, fenced in area with a long leash while I sit at the sliding door on the bad days.

    The representative stated that he needed to speak with someone else at the school that deals with special needs cases to determine whether or not I meet the eligibility requirements. I need the service dog aspects for transitions, opening and holding doors, dressing, etc. but need the guide dog as well. If they say no to the cross-trained dog then I definitely do not meet the requirements for a guide dog. I can’t walk 6-8 blocks without stopping so my application will be rejected. I stated the possibility of using an electric wheelchair in the near future on the application because I’d like to go out for day trips but I just can’t handle all the time on my legs. Unfortunately, my arms are too bad to propel myself in a regular wheelchair. I don’t think that that helped my situation any. This place seems to be my only hope and I’ve been waiting a week to find out the outcome of Friday’s conversation. So far I’ve only been able to talk to voice mail.

    I’ll tell ya, I never thought that once my eyes got bad enough for a guide dog, that my body would be too broken and damaged for me to get one! I understand that I have a long road ahead of me waiting for a hypo-allergenic cross-trained guide dog but I still have to manage the first hurdle: for my application not to be rejected right away because of my other conditions. The whole point of the service part of the trained dog is to help with the struggles caused by my RA riddled body (transition, opening and holding doors, dressing, etc.) not to use it against me to say that I’m unfit to get a dog. I’m very frustrated because more and more I feel like my RA and other physical conditions are doing the same for me as a man with ALS states: Always Losing Something. My list of complications seems to grow longer by the month if not the day as I deal with TMJ (really bad ear pain during a flare that distracts from proper hearing), severely dry eyes and nose, eczema, compromised immune system, etc. How much more do I have to lose? I’ve already lost most of my quality of life and had to sign a form with Medicaid stating that I CHOOSE to continue living in the community even though I meet all the requirements to be in a skilled nursing facility. I’m looking for a tool to help with wiping myself after toileting. How much more dignity must I lose? Now I can’t even have a service trained guide dog that can help encourage me to be more active and possibly help me lose weight? With a completely blind husband, how will I get around without my cane or a guide dog? (His cane only does so much and he refuses to get a dog.) Why must my body keep fighting me and make everything more complicated? Sigh. This is my life.

    (Sorry all. I’m not normally this down and out. I’m still struggling with the loss of Tigger. I hit a sore subject and it all just started flowing. I decided not to delete all the extra stuff because people need to know what RA can do and how it can affect every aspect of your life and others sharing it with you.) God bless you all in your individual RA run for life. Mine has had many complications along the way that has made my RA more debilitating. Really I’m not a bitter person. I just want a sliver of hope and answers.

  9. Leena says:

    I’m sorry for the book everyone!

  10. qejm0g says:

    I have 3 cats… unfortunately my husband isnt in favor -control issues-and you cant herd a cat!! He s not much help in the cat litter department. I’ve changed to the lighter cat litter.. easier to carry the boxes and scoop out. It is more expensive but easier on my shoulders and wrists.

  11. BeckyKay says:

    I would like to think I would never give up having pets but I have learned to make some accommodations. My chairs/sofa are covered with fleece blankets to eliminate removing pet fur – just into the washing machine and dryer. Moving food/water dishes to benches (or about 12″ off the floor) to reduce bending. As my Persian cats passed away due to old age, the new kits were easy-care shorter furred varieties. And finding a vet practice who will occasionally bathe and groom the cats for me. (most groomers will not deal with cats)

    Keeping a sealed container of treats tucked into the cushions and under pillows keeps the cats coming to visit me!

  12. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Yes, BeckyKay…These are awesome tips thank you!! I actually completely forgot to mention elevating food and water bowls, which I do too! For bigger dogs, it’s better for their digestion so they’re not bending so far to the ground.

    My aunt doesn’t like the look of the cushions covered so we don’t have them on all the time. We do is leave one side up and let that get dirty…then when company comes over — just flip the cushion and it’s all nice and clean…heh….

    I’m sorry to hear about your Persians…My eldest three are 16,14 and 12 so I’m starting to brace myself for their time. But, I am glad you got some new kittens!! They’re always sweet 🙂

  13. Ed Burgoyne moderator says:

    Hello Monica, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having and taking care of pets while dealing with RA. It suer is both incredibly wonderful and mysterious how pets can affect the life and emotions of people. I have never been a parent to a dog or cat, but I was part of a friendly flock of 4 parakeets for years. The feeding and cleaning was easier than a dog, but the love and enjoyment was there.
    As for any tips or suggestions for being a dog parent, and this is just me thinking, is that if you are having a flare up day, is it possible that a trusted neighborhood kid would be willing to help with taking a puppy for an evening walk? Of course, in exchange for a few homemade cookies!

  14. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Hi Ed! I’ve never had birds but every bird parent I know sings their praises just like dog and cat parents.

    I am actually pretty lucky that there are a couple of people who help out with the dog unfortunately, we have to pay them. I didn’t want to put this into the article because I know a lot of people don’t have a good support system or the finances! But, it definitely helps that I can call someone on short notice!

    Thank you so much for commenting on my first article!!

  15. tiptoetam18 says:

    They are all great suggestion and I’m going to use some of them thanks

  16. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    Thanks tiptoetam18! I am glad you enjoyed the article…Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂

    ~Monica

  17. All great suggestions. Unfortunately we lost our little pup last year. It has made a difference in my RA life because I get less exercise. I miss our little pup and I am sure yours give you much comfort.

  18. Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author says:

    I am so sorry to hear that, Rick…We lost Saachi almost 3 years ago as well…Just out of curiosity, (if you are comfortable responding) did you experience any change in your condition right after the loss? I flared up horribly and had to change all my medications…I had no idea stress and grief could affect my RA so much!

    And yes, to the exercise! I feel much stronger, more alert when I walk Mocha but recently with the cold weather on the East Coast I’ve flared up more from it. Double-edged sword, I guess…

    Thank you so much for commenting on my first article!! I really appreciate it and I look forward to connecting with you further 🙂

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