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Critter Corner: How Pets Support People with Parkinson’s Disease 

Dear Raider, 

My mom has Parkinson’s disease. We live a half hour away and try to see her as much as we can. I think having a pet will help her to stay active and feel loved. We always had miniature poodles growing up. Do you think it’s a good idea for her to adopt a middle-age to senior poodle for companionship? And, maybe a cat, too, for cuddles and love? 

Petta Pupp 

 

Dear Petta, 

Being a dog myself, I can honestly say that we are great pets that give lots of unconditional love! Don’t tell anyone I said this, but in most cases, cats are too! 

Pets can definitely positively impact the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s, from boosting their mental well-being to providing them with love and affection to getting them up and moving. However, taking on a furry companion needs to be a thoughtful decision. 

Clare Addison, for example, has a 12-year-old cat and a miniature labradoodle who is now seven years old. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2016. She and her husband got their dog around that time, but that decision was made more because their children wanted one. As a couple, they’ve always had pets, so they couldn’t imagine life without them. 

Clare admits that her Parkinson’s has occasionally affected her ability to look after her pets, so for that reason, she is glad that she shares the responsibility in case she is having a bad day.  She feels that her pets are a huge positive when it comes to her well-being. According to Clare, “(o)ur cat is a cuddly comfort; she’s quietly loving, inquisitive and soft, and she calms the whole household. Our dog is a bundle of fun, who drags you out for a walk even if you’re not keen, which is great for me – but she’s equally happy to sit around on a cold, rainy day.” 

Clare would encourage people with Parkinson’s to have pets. She believes that a dog is great if you’ve got a busy household, and the care doesn’t totally fall on you. To Clare, her dog is a part of the family. For someone with Parkinson’s, she feels that it’s very important that dogs are well trained, not too noisy, and respond reliably when called. She believes that cats are easy and live alongside the family without being too demanding. If you are thinking about getting a pet, be sure you have someone available to help you out if you are having a tough day, and keep in mind the commitment and cost of having a pet. 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Discusses Having a Pet if You Have Parkinson’s 

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, for many people with Parkinson’s disease, pets provide both companionship and practical help with daily life. 

  • Service dogs trained to work with people with Parkinson’s can help their owners maintain balance while walking, or alert a family member after a fall. They can also be trained to help people with Parkinson’s move when experiencing gait freezing or stand up from a chair or after a fall.  
  • Owning any dog, service or not, automatically means including exercise in your day. Research shows that regular exercise helps decrease the symptoms of many people with Parkinson’s disease.  
  • In general, studies link pet ownership with reducing signs of depression in people with chronic illnesses and with reducing loneliness in seniors.  

As I mentioned previously, keeping a pet is a long-term commitment. Think about what type of pet might be best suited to your circumstances, the cost of owning a pet (including vet bills and food), how regularly you might need to exercise your pet, and what might happen if your housing needs change, and make sure you have the assistance you need in place. If a pet or multiple pets are ideal for your situation, I hope you give them a good home, and they give you lots of love and companionship! 

Hope this is helpful! 

Raider 

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.