Service Dogs for Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide for Prospective Owners and Their Caregivers

service dog for ms

Those who live with multiple sclerosis may suffer from a variety of symptoms due to the disease attacking the central nervous system and affecting the body’s ability to communicate with the brain. This can cause issues with walking, bowel or bladder functions, vision problems and interference with speech, such as slurring words or stuttering.

If you suffer from multiple sclerosis or are a caregiver, you may be interested to know that an ms service dog could improve quality of life and assist the disabled individual in a variety of tasks. Before you make this decision, however, understanding what might be involved in choosing, training and caring for the animal may help you make the most informed choice possible.

MS Service Dog Assistance 

A multiple sclerosis service dog can help you with a variety of tasks, whether you walk with assistance or use a wheelchair. These animals can be trained for either situation, which gives them the ability to be flexible if you both walk and use a wheelchair if you grow tired during the day. Depending on your individual needs, these dogs can learn dozens of commands and assist you with many daily tasks, including:

  • Opening drawers and retrieving items
  • Picking up dropped objects
  • Helping with dressing and undressing
  • Turning lights off and on
  • Assisting you with balance issues

If you want to maintain or improve your mobility, one study showed that the gait of those suffering from MS improved with the assistance of a service dog. If you believe this animal could help you with daily tasks or help you maintain some independence, the next step in the process is to decide which breed of dog best suits your lifestyle.

Choosing an MS Service Dog Breed 

There are a variety of service dog breeds for ms and larger kinds are often trained for this type of job because of their size and ability to help those with the disease maintain, control and assist with the balance issues it causes. Some of the most popular breeds seen performing tasks for MS patients vary, such as:

  • Standard poodles
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Golden retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Border collies

As you browse different breed habits and types, you may want to consider whether your lifestyle and living space allows for a large dog. For example, if you live in a one-bedroom apartment, you may want to choose a smaller breed, such as a border collie, over a larger German Shepherd. If you rent, remember that no landlord can refuse the presence of a service dog under the Fair Housing Act, no matter its breed or size.

You may have a breed in mind based on its appearance or because of a dog your family had as a child, but it is important to understand that the dog’s overall comfort may affect its performance as a service animal.

Finding a Service Dog 

Unless you decide to adopt or buy a young dog and train it for service yourself, your search for a qualified animal could take months or even several years. Some organizations that train dogs for service may have long waiting lists and others may require you to attend several matching sessions before you find an animal that suits or might bond with you and your family.

If getting a qualified service dog from a training program is beyond your means, you could hire a trainer to teach a young dog the tasks you will need it to perform. Dog training is a skill and you may have more success with an animal by taking this route, especially if you have never owned or raised a dog before. An ms service dog trained specifically for supporting your illness may also be found through breeders who work with service organizations.

The Needs of an MS Support Dog 

Your multiple sclerosis service dog will be much more than a companion. It will be a constant source of physical and emotional support and assist you with tasks that may help you remain independent, even on days when your symptoms are at their worst. As such, your dog will have its own needs to stay happy and healthy. Consistent veterinary checkups, high-quality food and intellectual stimulation will all help to keep your companion healthy.

Your dog may also require certification papers and a licensed, authentic service dog vest if you plan to travel. Airports and bus stations may ask for proof of its license and vaccination status. While some people might be curious or interested in your dog, you may want to have your caregiver or a traveling companion remind them that the animal must remain focused on its job and distractions like petting and other attention may affect that.

MS Service Dog Cost

Because dogs trained to assist multiple sclerosis patients are trained to learn at least four dozen commands and have other specialized training, the cost of one of these animals may top over $43,000. You may be asked to cover all or a portion of the price, depending on what your insurance might cover or what a non-profit organization may offer. While the cost might vary depending on your individual needs, the price of dogs that originate from training programs that are designed specifically for MS patients usually ranges from $20,000-$45,000. Once you own your service dog you will need to register the dog as a service dog in order to take them with you where you need to go or travel.

Multiple sclerosis symptoms can change your life by restricting your mobility and hampering your independence. Choosing to bring an ms service dog into your life can help you regain confidence and give you the freedom you may never have thought possible, but educating yourself before you search for an animal can help you make informed and positive choices.

Written by 

Susie is a lifelong dog lover and has been working with service dogs and therapy animals for over a decade. She is passionate about getting people the right type of animal to help their specific needs.

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