Can Getting a Pet Help You Manage Psoriatic Arthritis?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

For those living with psoriatic arthritis, getting a companion pet or service animal can come with a variety of benefits. Not only can furry friends have a positive impact on your physical and mental health, service animals in particular can also assist with different tasks and errands that can be useful in managing symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, like mobility or stiffness.

However all pet ownership comes with responsibilities and demands that should be given plenty of thought (this is peak adulting). If you’re considering getting a companion pet or service animal, there are a few things you should know ahead of time about pet ownership and how service animals differ from family pets.

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Here’s a look at how pet ownership might help you manage your condition and everything you should research or look into before making a decision.

Benefits of pet ownership

The many benefits of pet ownership have long been purported. And they go far beyond snuggles and slobbery kisses.

According to the CDC, bonds between people and their pets can encourage fitness, reduce stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Since stress is one of the most common triggers for flares of psoriatic arthritis — which can include fatigue, skin rash, and joint pain and swelling — keeping stress levels low is an essential element of managing the condition.

Yet the health benefits don’t stop there. The CDC also notes that pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, while also decreasing feelings of loneliness — the latter of which matters more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, having a pet can provide more opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, and socialization.

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Since exercise is recommended to help keep joints and tendons loose, which can reduce inflammation and pain for those living with psoriatic arthritis, having a pet can motivate you to boost your activity levels. Dr. Steven Gundry, a cardiothoracic surgeon who sees patients with different forms of arthritis, even “prescribes” pets due to their many positive benefits.

“The more you move, the better your symptoms of arthritis get,” Gundry says. “Dogs [in particular] require you to take them for a walk twice a day. They are a phenomenal way to meet other people and engage in conversations. They also give you pretty good emotional support.”

Even the simple act of picking up a small dog or cat, Gundry explains, can be a helpful activity in combating stiffness from psoriatic arthritis.

These type of benefits are available whether you adopt a scruffy shelter kitten, a rescue bunny, or a highly trained service animal.

What about the differences between pets and service animals?

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As you consider your options, it’s important to know the differences between companion pets and service animals. Though both generally require the same type of care (feeding, play time, walks, etc.), federal law doesn’t consider service animals as pets. Instead, they’re seen as equipment to help people living with disabilities complete various tasks and functions. This is because they’re trained to address specific needs that their owner may require assistance with managing.

Service animals also get different rights than companion pets. Since service animals are protected by the ADA, they can go just about everywhere an individual who has a disability needs to go. This can include public transit, private businesses, workplaces, residential complexes, and houses of worship. Companion pets, on the other hand, don’t have these rights.

Additionally, because of the extensive and specialized training required for service animals there are often long waiting lists to be matched with an animal and they may come at a substantial cost. So what’s the benefit of getting a service animal instead of a pet?

Tasks service animals can assist with

Service animals can assist their owners with a number of tasks. They can be trained to pull wheelchairs, remind owners to take medications, and retrieve items like telephones. Service animals can also provide physical support and assistance with balance and stability, which Gundry says is one of their main benefits for people living with psoriatic arthritis in particular.

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“Some people who have severe knee or ankle pain often develop balance issues,” he explains. “A service animal can be a very useful adjunct or help with balance.” Gundry also argues that rather than leaning on a walker or cane, people who have psoriatic arthritis may have more support with a well-trained service animal that they can hold or use as a guide in crowds.

Specific tasks that a service animal may be trained to help with if their owner has psoriatic arthritis could include:

  • assistance with walking and stability
  • retrieving items from the ground or elsewhere
  • assisting with dressing and undressing
  • opening and closing doors
  • turning lights off and on
  • assisting a person to an upright position
  • barking or otherwise indicating a need for help
What to know before getting a service animal

If you’re on the fence between getting a service animal or a companion pet, it’s important to remember the various nuances that service animals may come with.

They’ll require ongoing training and will need to be registered as service animals. Additionally, federal laws regarding service animals are limited to specific types of service animals and not extended to emotional support pets or other animals, which can affect access on modes of transportation like airplanes.

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The investment required when purchasing a service animal means that it’s important to thoroughly research the organization providing the training before moving forward. You may also want to speak with your doctor, your landlord, your employer, and others regarding your plans in order to address any concerns up front.

Considerations about getting and caring for a pet

Before getting an animal of any kind, whether it’s a companion pet or a service animal, consider taking time to weigh out the pros and cons of your decision. An animal is a long-term and sometimes lifelong commitment that requires daily care and love. A companion pet or service animal will count on you to make sure it’s fed, played with, and taken care of overall.

Things to consider include:

  • the upfront investment
  • the ongoing financial cost of food, supplies, and veterinary care
  • the daily responsibilities required for feeding, exercise, and training
  • whether your lifestyle and home environment is pet-friendly
  • whether the benefits of pet ownership balance the energy and time involved
  • whether you’re looking for a companion or service animal

Pet ownership can come with plenty of physical, mental, and social benefits, particularly for those living with psoriatic arthritis. To make a decision that’s right for you and your needs, Gundry recommends speaking with your physician if you have any questions about how pet ownership can fit into your life, and to consider the severity of your condition.

This will help you determine whether a companion pet or service animal will be most beneficial to your unique situation, or if pet ownership might not be right for you at this time. “Pet ownership requires a commitment,” Gundry says. “You have to supply them with food, water, and recreation.”

Of course what they provide in return can be companionship and love beyond your expectations.

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