Among the benefits of having a pet are joy and stress relief

When AS symptoms flare, quirky cats come to the rescue

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by Jemma Newman |

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Did you know that pets can be wonderfully helpful for people with a chronic disease like ankylosing spondylitis (AS)?

One of the lovable and hilarious parts of owning a pet is their funny quirks and characteristics. We have two rescue cats, and the brother of the pair, Fudge, has a very odd but endearing habit when he’s playing with his toys in the living room. With his eyes wide open and his tail puffed like a squirrel, he’ll bat a toy mouse around the floor for a minute or two, then stuff it into his mouth like a dog carrying a ball.

Then comes the strange part: He carries the tiny velvet mouse over to his water bowl and dunks it underwater, pushing it around for a wash with his paw. Fudge then happily fishes his toy out of the water and carries it off proudly, while his feline sister, Cookie, looks on, puzzled.

Meanwhile, I watch the antics of our pets in silent hilarity, trying not to laugh out loud, which would abruptly end the comedy acts playing out on a daily basis in our living room. No matter how much discomfort I’m in, how frustrating my day’s been, or how little sleep I’ve had, our two sweet cats never fail to make me feel better.

A close-up photo shows a gray adult tabby cat intensely staring at the camera with a toy mouse in his mouth. He is in mid-prowl on a hardwood floor.

Fudge, one of Jemma Newman’s family pets, loves to carry around a dripping wet cat toy. (Photo by Jemma Newman)

Pets increase happiness and relieve stress

When my AS is flaring or I’m feeling particularly stiff and painful, I’ll try to get a little more rest than usual during the day. Putting my feet up on the couch and supporting my back with cushions can feel more comfortable for my sacroiliac joints than standing or lying flat (at least for a while).

Though I might be feeling exhausted from a lack of sleep and weighed down by the fatigue that often accompanies AS, nothing makes me feel instantly happier and calmer than running my hands along the soft flank of a purring cat curled up beside me. It’s like furry therapy.

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Having a chronic and painful disease like AS can make me feel mentally low or overwhelmed at times, but stroking or playing with a pet never fails to lift my mood. Discussing the overwhelmingly positive influence of pets on mental health, Rebecca Brendel, president of the American Psychiatric Association, explains that “the animals we bring into our lives and our families play many roles, from nonjudgmental companions that we love to key partners in reducing our stress and anxiety.”

Luckily, our cats don’t care if I’m feeling grumpy or antisocial because my AS symptoms are bothering me. Normally, I’m a pretty outgoing and bubbly person, but the constant burning of my sacroiliac joints can make my patience grow thin and my brain sluggish, and I’ve noticed I tend to avoid social situations and small talk at times like that.

But I never grow tired of the gentle companionship and unconditional love from our cats — with the added bonus that I don’t feel pressure to think of witty comments or funny stories like I do when I’m talking to a human.

Does AS give me the energy to care for a pet?

The only time I struggled with pet ownership was when Cookie became ill as a kitten. She needed daily medication, and I had to clean her long fur, mop the floors, and change her bedding several times a day. Looking after a sick pet, plus two small children, a husband who also has AS, and my own AS symptoms was quite challenging.

As amazing as having a pet can be, it’s important to weigh the needs of that pet (luckily our cats are normally a breeze to look after) with our physical and financial ability to look after them. For our family, cats are perfect because they’re quiet and fairly self-sufficient. However, I can’t guarantee that I’d have the physical ability to exercise a high-energy dog if I were having an AS flare.

Living with a pet offers real health benefits, from improving our mood to keeping us mobile. Whether you’ve got a cat, a dog, or another animal that brings you joy and companionship, I’ll bet you agree that they offer more than just cuteness. They’re a comedy act, stress relief, and a best friend all rolled into one furry package.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


Jean avatar


SO TRUE Jemma- whether you have AS or not :). And great to hear your pets help you like this.


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