Expert Answers: Service Dogs and COPD
Response from Leon
Living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be physically debilitating. For some people, COPD - and its associated comorbidities, may keep them from pursuing and enjoying their daily routine and normal (physical) activities. Sometimes, people with COPD may experience serious emotional issues such as loneliness, anger, anxiety or fear. However, with simple modifications to lifestyle, such as healthy eating habits and exercise, living a good life with COPD is very attainable and should be pursued.1-5
Many of us have heard about and/or seen service animals working with their owners. Animal-assisted therapy or pet therapy, as it is sometimes called, is used in many healthcare facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities. Pet therapy is a guided, structured interaction between a person and a trained animal, and it is used to help a patient recover from, or cope with, a health problem or mental health disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems, helping people achieve improved emotional and physical health.1-5
Service dogs for COPD may be able to make one's life easier by carrying oxygen cylinders or performing small tasks that are more difficult to handle on one's own. If you have a prescription for supplemental oxygen therapy and aren’t using a small oxygen cylinder or a portable oxygen concentrator, you know that carrying an oxygen tank can become heavy, tiresome and even inhibit the desire to leave the house.1-5
With a properly trained service dog, the pet can actually carry the oxygen cylinder for you to lighten the load. Service dogs can also retrieve items that are out of your reach (such as dropped keys or a small package), open and close doors, find a specific person (for you) and lead them to you, turn light switches on or off, and even bark to notify others that help may be needed. Service dogs for COPD can also help to keep you physically active, as well. Walking your service dog on a regular basis can help you improve your exercise tolerance. Through companionship, a service dog can also ease one's stress and anxiety. If you are in need of some assistance or companionship, you may want to consider getting a service dog.1-5
Of course, there are some risks associated with having a service dog; not the least of which is allergies, if one is so affected. There is also the additional 'work' of sanitation for the animal owner. These should be considered in discussing the feasibility of a service dog with your physician.
Response from Lyn
Performing many daily chores can be difficult when a person has COPD. Sometimes trying to do something as mundane as picking up something you’ve dropped becomes a task of astronomical proportions.
Thankfully, service dogs can be trained and used for people with breathing problems. They will pick things up, retrieve an item you need so you don’t have to get up to get it, “answer” the door, and many other daily chores – some even pick up the telephone. Another plus side to having a service dog is they provide exercise for their owner at a pace that’s right for you. They also afford much needed companionship for those that can’t get out as much as they used to. However, this may also represent a negative aspect for some people suffering from COPD. Since the dog does need exercise and walks, it may actually be a burden to someone who is no longer able to get out or walk even short distances. Another concern might be the animal dander. Depending on your particular situation and what may trigger exacerbations, having an animal may not work for you.
There are organizations that provide service dogs free of charge to the recipient or at a very low cost. However, some are very costly, so it pays to do your research. If it’s something you feel would benefit you, speak to your doctor about it.
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