How my mother-in-law’s dog helped her cope with FAP

At their best, pets can have similarities with caregivers — but not always

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by Ezekiel Lim |

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The companionship of dogs and other pets may benefit patients by helping them cope as they manage the symptoms of familial amyloid polyneuropathy (FAP). But depending on when the pet becomes part of the family, its presence may also be a hindrance, unknowingly aggravating the patient’s pain. That’s especially true for larger dogs, including my mother-in-law’s chocolate Labrador retriever, Percy.

My mother-in-law, who has FAP, had to have Percy put down recently. He’d been with the family for 12 years and, because of age, had significant nerve damage; his hind legs had become useless. The loss was devastating for her, and even for me.

But from the years I knew Percy, I noticed some parallels between the roles of family pets and patient caregivers.

Pet and caregiver roles

Percy provided my in-laws with companionship indoors and outdoors, which helped break the tedium they felt in their everyday life. My mother-in-law loved being outdoors, and she had Percy guide her through trails and grassy areas that her electric wheelchair could navigate.

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Similarly, caregivers help patients break the tedium of daily life, too. We also help them navigate pathways, both literally and figuratively, that they may not feel comfortable traversing. Caregivers may also help their patients enjoy outdoor activities while looking out for their physical well-being. I’ve accompanied my mother-in-law on numerous walks through the park and hiking trails while helping her navigate rough terrain, and we’ve also joined her when she’s fishing.

The main thing I noticed about Percy, from the time I met him, was that he kept everyone on their toes. His presence kept my mother-in-law engaged and thinking. He was playful, but also alert and interactive.

Caregivers do the same for their patients. When an ailment becomes serious, patients may be caught in patterns of rumination or worry, but interaction with caregivers, especially friends and family, may help move their focus away from their problems.

Pet considerations for neuropathy patients

The emotional connection most of us feel with our pets can help FAP patients cope with neuropathy pain, but that may depend on the timing of the diagnosis.

In my mother-in-law’s case, Percy became part of the family when her symptoms were fairly new and contained. She adapted to Percy’s large presence as she was getting accustomed to her condition. However, patients who develop symptoms after acquiring a dog or other pet may have trouble continuing to take care of their companion. That’s exacerbated if the caregiver objects.

That said, I’ve seen the difference a longstanding family pet can make. I know we’re all thankful for Percy.

Note: FAP 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 FAP News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to familial amyloid polyneuropathy.


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