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How a Dog Helped My Mom With COPD Flares

owning a pet when you have COPD
Mom & Molly

They say dogs are a man’s best friend. Well, I’m here to tell you that they can be a woman’s best friend and companion too. My mother fought her battle with COPD for at least 10 years, but the last 4 years were the hardest. Just before her health took a downturn, she adopted a Shih Tzu puppy, having lost her beloved Cocker Spaniel the year before. Truth be told, I think needing to care for a rambunctious puppy in the dead of winter probably hastened her decline. But there is no arguing that Molly the Shih Tzu greatly improved my mom’s quality of life during her last four years.

Reasons Why a Pet Might Not Be the Best Idea

Experts often caution people with COPD against having pets. They cite the possibility of allergic reactions to pet dander being a trigger for COPD exacerbations, also known as flares. But not everyone who has COPD also has allergic sensitivities.

Another concern, and one that I definitely observed with my mother are the physical demands of having a pet to care for. Pets need to be toileted, fed and in some cases exercised. This can be an added workload for a person with COPD who is already struggling with finding the energy for their own activities of daily living. In my mom’s case, needing to take Molly outside several times during the cold, winter nights probably had a lot to do with her developing a respiratory infection that landed her in the hospital.

Ultimately, Mom had to give up her new little puppy, because caring for her was just too much for her at that stage of her disease. Luckily, I was in a position to adopt Molly and she lived with us for a few months, still being able to visit Mom occasionally. And after about 9 months, Mom ended up moving in with us, so Molly once again became hers. It was a joyous reunion!

How Molly Helped Mom Cope With Her Disease

On the other hand, a pet can also provide some real benefits to the person who has COPD. In another post, I discuss these many positive results, but today I wanted to talk specifically about how Molly helped my mom cope with her COPD.

When you have COPD or emphysema, you deal with a number of respiratory symptoms that can range from bothersome to life threatening. With consistent attention to medication, rest/exercise balance and possibly supplemental oxygen, your health can often be kept on a fairly even keel for a long time. But no matter how stable your COPD is, there will be times when symptoms worsen, hopefully temporarily. There is usually an environmental trigger or irritant of some kind, such as smoke, or other threats to air quality. Respiratory infections can also be a trigger.

This temporary worsening of symptoms is called an exacerbation.

Flare or flare up is another term often used. When this happens, symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing and coughing become significantly worse. This can be quite frightening, both for the person with COPD, as well as their caregivers. Medications, oxygen, rest and avoiding whatever might have triggered this attack should always be used quickly, as per your plan of care.

But none of those measures will directly impact your emotional state. This is where a pet can really make a difference. I definitely saw that with my mom. One of her most common symptoms of a COPD flare was uncontrolled coughing, the kind that makes your eyes water and you feel like you’re never going to take a deep breath again without triggering yet another coughing spell.

When my mom would start one of her coughing spells, Molly would crawl up into her lap on the recliner or hop onto the bed, if it was during the night or nap time. A wag of her tail, a few licks, the cuddle of a warm body all went a long way towards giving Mom something else to focus on.

I would notice that my mom’s panic and anxiety would immediately calm down a notch.

And when the panic eased, then she could begin to work more on controlling her breathing and the coughing would often start to ease off fairly quickly. And, if nothing else, Molly was just such a comfort to Mom!

In Summary

A pet might not be the answer for everyone who has COPD. But if you’re not allergic, and you have someone who can help you care for a pet, you might find that having one helps you cope with your disease, especially when symptoms flare out of control. There is no denying the power of unconditional love that a pet can give you!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.