10 Benefits of Having a Service or Therapy Dog When You Have MS

Service dogs are typically thought of as necessary companions for the visually impaired, but service and therapy dogs can be a practical solution for people with a variety of chronic illnesses.

As well as being a trusted friend, service dogs can expand owners’ motor abilities, granting them new independence and allowing them to get more out of life. Here are just a few benefits of having a service dog, according to healthfitnessrevolution.commira.ca, the Lung Institute, and rover.com.

Wheelchair Assistance
Service dogs can be trained to pull wheelchairs and to help wheelchairs up ramps and onto sidewalks. They can also help their owner move in and out of the wheelchair.

Anxiety Relief
Having a chronic illness can bring about many emotional and mental health problems. The calming nature of service and therapy dogs can help ease anxiety and petting dogs is known to release endorphins and reduce stress.

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Retrieve Items
Service dogs can help chronic disease patients by picking up dropped items and fetching items from other rooms, a vital service for someone who may find getting around difficult and painful.

MORE: Seven things people with MS want you to know about the disease

Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
There is evidence that stroking a dog and sitting next to a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. The soothing effects of their body heat may also help with pain relief.

Improved Balance
Walking with a service dog can help people with chronic diseases who have trouble with their balance. The dogs can also help prop their owners in place to prevent falls.

Good Distraction
Looking after a service dog gives people something to focus on other than their illness. It can help patients develop positive routines and force them to get up and go out.

MORE: Find out more about the four types of multiple sclerosis

Exercise
Service dogs, like all dogs, need exercise, so having a service dog encourages owners to get some exercise each day.

Attract Attention
If you need help but are unable to draw attention yourself, your service dog will be able to bark loudly to attract attention from passersby or neighbors.

Promote Communication
Dogs have been known to help promote communication and often prompt conversation from strangers when out and about.

Help Around the House
Therapy dogs are able to help people around the house with simple tasks such as answering the doorbell, retrieving medication, opening and closing doors, and switching lights on and off.

MORE: MS patients may show signs of the disease five years before onset

Multiple Sclerosis News Today 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 another 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.

2 comments

  1. Jacqui says:

    I like the benefits listed in this article but I really feel that there needs to be a clarification on what a service dog is as well as the fact that ONLY service dogs have public access rights. Therapy dogs and ESA’s (Emotional Support Animals) are NOT service dogs and have no public access rights.

    I went to the ADA website and pulled this information about Service Dogs.

    A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

    Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

    Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

    Service Animals. The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals. The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA.

    I also like the definition of an ESA and Therapy dogs that I found on Psychiatric Service Dog Partners website (https://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions/laws)

    What is an Emotional Support Animal?

    An emotional support animal is a pet that provides disability-relieving emotional support to an individual, but is not necessarily trained to do so. Unlike with service dogs, service dog laws do not allow emotional support animals (ESAs) to go out in public to places dogs are normally prohibited. ESA owners do have certain legal rights in housing situations and when flying, though ESAs are supposed to be public access trained for flight access.

    Emotional support animals can be important residential companions for people with disabilities ESAs can mitigate. Some may even have the temperament to undergo the training needed to work as a psychiatric service dog.

    However, Psychiatric Service Dog Partners is focused on service dogs and those dogs being trained to work as service dogs. These are trained both for public access and to do work or tasks to mitigate psychiatric disabilities.

    What is a therapy dog?

    Unlike a service dog, a therapy dog is a pet trained to interact with many people other than its handler to make those people feel better. Therapy dogs are also trained to behave safely around all sorts of people, and are often certified.

    A therapy dog handler is not given public access rights by any service dog laws to take the dog out everywhere like service dog users, because the handler does not have a disability the dog is individually trained to mitigate. Therapy dogs are only allowed into places like hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and libraries by prior agreement (again, not by service dog laws).

    I personally have a service dog and she is invaluable to me! But service dogs do take a lot of work, time and a huge committment. They are with you 24/7. For some people some of the benefits can also be a draw back. You will never be invisible again and you will never have a quick 5 min trip in the store again. But service dogs are so worth it.

  2. Andrea Myers says:

    It really helped me when you said that stroking a dog and sitting next to a dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. We are thinking of having a service dog for my father for him to have a companion at home. I will talk to my parents to consider this and tried to look for a service dog that we can have at home.

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