Image Credit: Sarah Alexander
Disability and lifestyle blogger Sarah Alexander cuddles her dog, Teddy.

The Power of Pet Therapy with Chronic Illness

Reading time | 4 mins
More than just pets, Sarah Alexander explains how her two dogs Teddy and George help her through the tough days with chronic illness.


I have two dogs – Teddy is almost two and George is just six months old. They’re still puppies, but in truth, they’ll always be my babies. I’ve not had my dogs very long and yet I can’t imagine my life without them. I never thought two fluffy little boys would make such a huge impact on me.

Animal lovers get it. We understand that pets are part of the family and that they hold special places in our hearts.

Growing up, we always had dogs. My family work with dogs, and we’re all massive fans of the barking species. I grew up knowing the love an animal can give, so once I was settled with my partner we decided (after a bit of convincing from my side) to get our own little canine.

A girl’s best friend

Being chronically ill and spending the majority of my days at home, I wanted a companion. A best friend that didn’t mind if I couldn’t go out a lot and who would spend days in bed with me when I wasn’t feeling great.

What I didn’t realise was how astute Teddy, my red cockapoo, would turn out to be. From just three months old he would be able to read me and my conditions like a book.

As soon as we brought him home we bonded and he recognised that I wasn’t able to do all the things my boyfriend could. I couldn’t play for as long, I couldn’t play tug or catch, and I certainly couldn’t keep getting up and down.

He quickly learnt my limits and didn’t push them, and still doesn’t.

When he was four months old I had a fall in the house. My boyfriend was in another room with music playing and couldn’t hear me calling for his help. Teddy ran to the room my boyfriend was in, and scratched and barked frantically at the door, before coming back to check on me, then back to the door to continue the scratching and barking until my boyfriend heard him and swiftly followed Ted to me.

The month after that I dislocated my shoulder and had to spend the day in bed recuperating. Teddy lay with me, licking my shoulder and refusing to leave my side. It was as if he was nursing me better.

He’s done so many little things like this when I have injured myself and I can’t quite believe how perceptive he is. He picks up on when I’m feeling anxious and stays close by my side during these times. When I am flaring, he will gladly spend days in bed with me.

More than emotional support

Teddy also provides ‘heat therapy’. When I am flaring he lies as close as possible to whatever joint is painful to help ease it. He is often found curled up next to my knee or hip transferring his body heat to my agonising joint.

I was told that dogs can smell inflammation because it gives off a certain odour that isn’t noticeable to us but obvious to dogs. Painful joints also have increased heat that the dog can sense so because my body chemistry is changing, even subtly, Teddy notices that and wants to help in whatever way he can. Whether it is just being there to keep me calm or helping to reduce pain.

Dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors (smell receptors) compared to our six million so of course my dog will notice a change in me when I am flaring. This is why medical alert dogs and service dogs are so incredible and saving lives daily.

Approximately three months ago I put my hip out and at the same time, my sciatica decided it was time to make an appearance too. I couldn’t move without screaming and was stuck lying on my side in bed. Ted positioned himself in the crook of my knees and every so often licked the back of my leg. He didn’t move when I spasmed, he didn’t flinch when I called out in pain, he just stayed by my side.

I was in so much pain and really worried as I hadn’t experienced anything like this in a while. But Ted kept me company and did what he could to help. For such a small dog, he is absolutely wonderful and has assisted me so many times.

Growing the family

Since little brother George came to join us, Teddy has been teaching him a lot and he too is learning my limitations. When George pushes his luck, Ted is right there to let him know that I am less mobile.

Both Teddy and George have worked wonders for my autistic boyfriend too. They sense the days when he’s feeling low. They lie with him, they help him with anxiety, and their fluffiness is sensory heaven.

Pets are incredible, they give so much love and happiness. As someone who is home a lot, it’s lovely to have company. Pet therapy really has been a saviour for my mental and physical health, and I encourage anyone that is able to get a pet. They’re life changing.

NPS-IE-NP-00514 January 2023