Can service dogs help patients with Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses?
Patients with all types of illnesses and disabilities, from cancer to autoimmune diseases to fibromyalgia, have reported great comfort in having a service dog at their side. In a recent article, Rodriguez and colleagues examined how effective a service dog can be in improving the lives of patients suffering from physical disabilities or chronic illness.¹
Service dogs, the authors explain, can assist people with functional physical disabilities, such as the visually impaired or individuals who require diabetic or epileptic monitoring. “Mobility service dogs can assist those with physical disabilities by performing tasks such as retrieving dropped items, opening doors, or pulling a wheelchair,” writes Rodriguez.
In addition, service dogs may be helpful for an owner’s psychosocial health and quality of life. “Since receiving a service dog, [individuals] require less assistance from others, have more confidence and self-esteem, and are more able to participate in social activities.”
“Individuals with both physical and “invisible” disabilities are often subject to social isolation, low self-esteem, and significant challenges when navigating their social environment,” the authors point out.
The authors looked at 97 people who were placed with a mobility or medical service dog. Individuals’ disabilities were primarily seizure disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, or neuromuscular disorders.
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They compared the results with 57 individuals who were placed on a waiting list for a mobility or medical service dog.
“Service dogs were primarily purebred or crosses between Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles,” Rodriguez explains.
The study results were mixed. Compared to those on the waitlist, “individuals with a service dog exhibited significantly better psychosocial health including higher social, emotional, and work/school functioning.”
But, “there was no significant effect of having a service dog on anger, companionship, or sleep disturbance.”
The authors did not find the presence of a pet to be a factor. In fact, there were more pets in the control group than the treatment group (65% vs. 45%, respectively).
Editor’s question: Some Lyme disease patients in my practice have reported the benefits of having a service dog. Have you found a service dog helpful for Lyme disease?
- Rodriguez KE, Bibbo J, O’Haire ME. The effects of service dogs on psychosocial health and wellbeing for individuals with physical disabilities or chronic conditions. Disabil Rehabil. 2019:1-9.