Sure, there are benefits to having a pet. But with MS, is it wise?

Consider your needs and your animal's, advises this owner of a dog and cat

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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I’m just back from walking our dog. My wife, Laura, rescued him about a year ago, and when she heard his name was Toby, like Tobias, she thought it was a sign that he was the dog for us. We’ve had dogs before, but I’m not getting any younger or healthier. What about my multiple sclerosis (MS)? Could we handle him?

Toby is very cute, for instance, but he’s very stubborn. When you walk him, it’s his way or the highway. Toby is also very loud; if you’ve ever heard a Yorkie-poo bark, you understand. And then there’s this: Toby was never completely potty trained. He’s an 8-year-old who wears diapers when indoors.

Let’s go for a walk

We walk Toby four times a day. Each time can be a bit challenging because it requires me to bend over the side of my scooter to pick up the poop, all while holding the leash and a cane in one hand and a poop bag in the other. (I’ve already had one scooter topple in the past six weeks, without any animal involvement.)

A small black and wheaten dog wears a blue harness while indoors.

Toby, a Yorkie-poo. (Photo by Ed Tobias)

But this little guy is such a mush. I mean, just look at that face. He’s sooo huggable. And Laura is head over heels in love with him. (Happy wife, happy life, you know.)

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Meet Freddie Mercury

Toby isn’t alone in our place. There’s also the cat.

Freddie Mercury arrived about six months before Toby. He’s a Maine Coon and a big boy — more than twice Toby’s size, at 20 pounds — a kitten who plays rough and has teeth like a tiger and claws like a cougar. He bites and scratches sometimes, but hey, he’s just playing. Still, it makes for an interesting dynamic between cat and dog, and between cat and us.

A black cat with yellow eyes sits in a patch of sun indoors.

Freddie, a Maine Coon. (Photo by Ed Tobias)

Freddie and Toby rise with the sun and are ready to rumble. We’re awakened by a chorus of barks and meows, more urgent than Alexa’s alarm. “Time to eat,” they demand, and their demand is our command.

Hitting the road

Twice a year, Laura and I drive between Florida and Maryland, and we’ve just completed that 1,015-mile trek. Toby and Freddie both love riding in the car, which is good. But we have to overnight with them at a hotel at least once during the trip, which is not good. Laura has her own health issues, and getting the pets, their food, a kitty litter, my scooter, and me in and out of the hotel is a serious challenge for all of us.

We enter the room hoping that Toby won’t be too vocal and that Freddie won’t have the zooms, where he launches himself between tables and bounces between walls. I’d hate to have to sleep in the car.

As it turns out, this year they were perfect traveling companions. In the hotel, they behaved better than some children I’ve seen. On the road, Toby curled up in Laura’s lap, and Freddie spent most of each day’s nine-hour ride stretched out along the center console.

Pluses and minuses

My BioNews colleague Jenn Powell, who also has MS, has two beautiful golden retrievers. She tells me that “the joy is unparalleled, and I do believe that joy has sustained me when times have become frighteningly dark and lonely.”

Jenn says pets are incredibly healing, but she cautions that the responsibilities are hard, if not impossible, when her pain or disability interferes. It’s sometimes tough to walk, groom, or even feed her dogs. But she says, “The healing powers of these creatures cannot be overstated.”

Halsey Blocher feels the same. Halsey, who has spinal muscular atrophy and writes a column for SMA News Today, uses an electric wheelchair to move around. Even so, a few years ago she brought a puppy, Thor, into her home, in addition to the other dog and a cat already in her family.

Fortunately, Halsey has family to assist her with her four-legged friends. At the time, she wrote that “the challenging parts of puppyhood will soon be in the past, and like all great investments, it will have been worth it.” Today, she told me, “Thor still fits pretty perfectly in our family, and the cat might even like him.”

Look before you leap

Pets are wonderful companions, but if you have a a disability, understand the animal’s needs as well as your limitations. I couldn’t do it alone. Walking the dog when the weather is bad is difficult, never being able to sleep late is tough on my MS fatigue, and the stress of a demanding animal isn’t something my doctor would prescribe.

But if you do an honest analysis and choose a pet that can fit into the unusual life of someone with a disability, the benefits can be the best.

You’re invited to share your pet stories in the comments below and to visit my personal blog at

Note: 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 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 Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Laetitia Smit avatar

Laetitia Smit


I was diagnosed in March 2019 and was very sick for the rest of the year. I got my DDR (Deutsches Demokratische Republic) that August. These are very energetic shepherds. But she was 8 weeks old and also sleeping the whole day with me and my german shepherd.. She adapted to my MS. She taught me to be tough with a dog and is the best dog ever. Then we got a Dutch Shepherd which is also high energy. I had to learn to control her too. She is quite handful but a lovely dog. She keeps me on my toes. I will advice people to have dogs, but you must really love them because these 2 dogs that I have is not for everyone. A gsd is much more relaxed and calmer. It depends on your personality and circumstances

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Laetitia,

Thanks for sharing all of that. It sounds like you have two wonderful friends, even though they may be a handful.



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