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Fibromyalgia, my dogs and me


Deborah Taylor Bryant describes the challenge of living with fibromyalgia and caring for her two dogs

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What can help your approach

  • Do you mention the health of a client in a consultation when you are there to examine and treat their animal? Whether you do or not will depend on your relationship with the client and whether you feel their health is negatively affecting that of their pet. Use your intuition.

  • Tread carefully in any conversation of this type. Chronically ill people can carry a lot of guilt regarding their pets, arising from not always being able to look after them in the way they did before they got ill or the way they would like to. This can make them quite defensive in situations when they feel their quality of care is being challenged.

  • Be aware that any extreme or defensive response on the part of the client may not be triggered by what you have said alone, but stem from the feeling of guilt that you may have inadvertently tapped into.

  • While the ‘brain fog’ aspect of fibromyalgia usually comes way down the list of symptoms, after chronic pain and extreme fatigue, it can be one of the most debilitating aspects. Remembering what has been said or discussed with the vet can be an issue, especially because some of the terms used are not familiar. As pain can make writing difficult, offering to write down some of the key things to remember from a consultation is helpful.

I have two cavalier King Charles spaniels, Reagan my Blenheim bitch, and Lincoln my tri-coloured male. I also have fibromyalgia, a condition with symptoms that vary from person to person. For me it means chronic pain and sometimes the inability to move, as well as ‘brain fog’, memory loss, and an inability to make a rational decision in the time it would take a ‘normal’ person to do so.

On my worst days I struggle to function, and while hiding away may seem the easiest option, I can’t ruin the lives of my dogs or children. They didn’t choose my illness, neither did I, and on tough days, I have to find a way to cope.

Some days it’s not just the physical pain that keeps me in my bed, but the horrific level of mental pain that leaves me hiding from the world.

My children get fed and ferried to school by my husband before he goes to work, but this leaves the dogs alone, in their beds, in the kitchen. I have to get up because the dogs can't let themselves out into the garden. They need to be fed, watered, walked, brushed, washed, fussed over and cuddled.

They seem to know when I’m struggling. They come to me and nuzzle me gently, rather than their usual leaping all over the place. They are like my children, they know when I need a cuddle and when I can go to the park.

Without my beloved dogs I wouldn’t get out of bed on those difficult days, which would lead to further mental health issues. Without my dogs I wouldn’t get any physical exercise, which is essential – not just for the benefits that endorphins make to my mental state – but in persuading my muscles not to give up. They, and I, have to keep going, because eventually we will have a good day.

The down side to dog ownership? The down side is that I may struggle to think clearly and assess a situation. For example, I may fail to attach the dogs’ leads properly or forget their waste bags. Some days my skin is so sensitive it’s painful to be touched and the thought of my dogs touching me repulses me.

I deal with these things to the best of my ability because I have a family and my dogs are part of my family too

I can also feel disorientated, dizzy, suffer from motion sickness or a whole host of other complications. I deal with these things to the best of my ability because I have a family and my dogs are part of my family too.

Does having two dogs, alongside the family, bring an extra burden to bear when I am suffering so greatly from my illness? Yes, obviously. Would I change any aspect of this? Not at all. The dogs go a long way to curing the loneliness I feel when my husband is working and my children are at school and college. We share our day. We snuggle on the couch when I genuinely cannot move and we play when I can. My dogs need me, and I need them.

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