Puppy power

Dogs vs. cats

It’s an old cliché: you’re either a cat person or a dog person. Depending on your side, one makes even the hardest heart melt; the other is simply an annoying, over-indulged ball of fur.

In this article, we would bravely like to cast a (biased) vote for ‘team dog’ – with a little medical and historical help. Could dogs be beneficial for people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS)? The evidence is indirect, but there’s lots pointing in the right direction. This article investigates what we know already – and what you should know about getting an AS-friendly dog for yourself.

They're called man's best friend for a reason

Since domestication centuries ago, the lives of dogs and man have overlapped. On top of slipper fetching, be it sheep dogs, drug dogs, blood hounds or St. Bernards, the practical powers of pooches are obvious. Dogs have a role in the medical world too. There are the familiar (and fantastic) guide dogs for the blind, but also dogs for veterans, dogs for diabetics – even dogs who can sniff out cancer.

Canine-assisted therapy (or CAT – no pun intended) has been used for decades: bringing dogs (and the occasional cat) into hospitals and hospices for comfort and (it’s hoped) to speed up recovery in some cases. One UK charity alone has 4,500 dogs in active service.1 But could dogs help with AS?

AS, exercise and how dogs could help

Many of you reading this don’t need to be told about the boost dogs can offer people with AS – lots of you already live with dogs (and talk about their benefits on social media). The psychological and social advantages of pets are also recognized by the medical community: benefits for the general population,2 the elderly3 and in people with long-term conditions.4 On top of that, even though a walk might not directly help your AS, a daily dog walk is said to have general health advantages for all sorts of people.5

Who knows? Maybe a big pair of brown eyes staring up at you in the morning could be the incentive you need to get active and work through your morning stiffness before putting your pet through its paces. It definitely sounds like better motivation than medical advice alone…

Are there 'AS friendly' dogs?

If we’ve managed to whet your appetite for a canine companion, which dog would work for you? Just like their owners, dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so This AS Life presents the AS ‘Canine League’: a totally non-scientific (and just for fun) way of highlighting why some breeds may work better than others for people with AS.

 

Dog 1 - The boxer

Pros: Brilliant companions and constant clowns, boxers would always put a smile on your face. Your own loyal, loving in-house court jesters.

Cons: A coiled spring, filled with energy: boxers don’t know when to quit. Boundless enthusiasm equals lots of exercise – far too much for flare days. Their energy also means they pull the lead – jarring joints – as well as jumping up and all over.

AS score – 1 paw

 

Dog 2 - The daschund (or ‘sausage/wiener dog’)

Pros: Compact, loyal and loveable, a daschund would be a faithful and smart companion. Being compact (and short of leg) they’re easy to lift in and out of cars and don’t require hours of walking to tire out.

Cons: Like all hounds, daschunds are wilful and yappy. They’re also prone to bad backs: you may well feel you spend enough time in the doctor’s waiting room with your back problems to do the same for your dog!

AS score – 2 paws

 

Dog 3 - The miniature greyhound

Pros: A surprise choice for some, but these dogs are very low maintenance – easy to train, not prone to barking and happy to lounge about on days when their owners want (or need) to too. Being miniature, they’re not powerful enough to pull the leash or jump up either.

Cons: It is, after all, still a greyhound: these guys are built for speed and, when they want to, they’ll go off like a rocket. Even Usain Bolt would have trouble chasing a spooked miniature greyhound, let alone someone with AS.

AS score – 3 paws

 

Dog 4 - The French bulldog

Pros: They boast almost all the plus points of the previous three dogs, with portability, friendliness and laziness combined. As happy out and about as they are indoors, French bulldogs are perfect companions on good days and not-so-good ones.

Cons: Although not to everyone's taste in the looks department, French bulldogs are massively popular with celebrities and non-celebrities too. This means they’re currently very expensive to buy.

AS score – 4 paws

 

Paws for thought

Interested in getting a dog? At this point, it’s responsible for This AS Life to point out getting a dog, especially for the first time, is not a decision to take lightly. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists ten questions any responsible dog owner-to-be should ask themselves before making a long-term, expensive and responsible commitment like this one.

Dogs aren't for everyone

Sadly, lots of us don’t have the time, space, money or energy for a dog full time. If that’s the case, maybe you could borrow one instead – a UK website has been putting dog owners and dog-free dog lovers together since 2012.6 Like many unusual ideas, borrowing a dog is huge in Japan too; there’s also a lovely start-up in California, USA, operating a similar scheme with shelter dogs.

Maybe it’s just as simple as borrowing a neighbour’s dog: however you do it, it’s clear from social media that people with AS get lots of emotional benefit from their pets. So whether it’s a dog, goldfish, parrot or – dare we say it – a cat, hopefully you’re a bit more persuaded that owning a pet could be an incredibly rewarding thing to do.

This article was written by one of the resident experts at ThisASLife.com. A social site, helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.


1. http://www.petsastherapy.org/general/about-the-charity Last accessed August 2015.
2. Ryan S, Ziebland S. Sociol Health Illn 2015; 37:67–80.
3. Knight S, Edwards V. J Aging Health 2008; 20:437–455.
4. Brooks HL et al. Chronic Illn 2013; 9: 87–102.
5. Lentino C et al. J Phys Act Health 2012; 9:414–420.
6. https://www.borrowmydoggy.com/about Last accessed August 2015.

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