Pets are forever faithful and grateful just to be in your presence. Knowing there’s someone at home waiting just to be loved makes a person feel needed like nothing else can. But being at home to love and adore a family isn’t the only place where these four-legged friends find purpose. Animals of every size are changing the face of addiction treatment for many who struggle with substance use. Are you wondering how pets help recovery? Pets help addiction recovery and can help keep you on course to a successful sobriety. 

Addiction is isolating and for those who suffer with a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as PTSD or depression, the feelings of loneliness can be devastating. For the best success in recovery, it is recommended you stay away from old friends who use drugs or alcohol and make many lifestyle changes. But how do you spend your free time? Companion animals and pets can be beneficial and therapeutic in addiction recovery. Read on to learn how pets help recovery. 

How Pets Help Recovery

The Natural Anti-Stress Remedy 

Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. But above all else, having a pet around can dramatically reduce our feelings of stress and anxiety. 

An estimated 68% of U.S. households have a pet. But who benefits from an animal? And which type of pet brings health benefits? Scientists are looking at what the potential physical and mental health benefits are for different animals—from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats.

While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.

Pets Help Recovery – A Healthy Lifestyle Change

Adopting a pet while you’re in recovery for a substance use or mental health disorder can be advantageous, both to you and the animal. It can essentially improve your overall mood, slake your loneliness, and give you a sense of purpose while lowering the chances of drug and alcohol abuse. Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important role in easing the burden of addiction and recovery, and this is how pets help recovery the best. 

Increasing exercise. Who has recently told themself, ”I should go for more walks.”? Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.

Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a live animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat.

Helping you meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.

Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world.  Because pets tend to live in the moment—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present. Pets help recovery by keeping you present and actively always reducing the anxiety felt. 

Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.

Give you a sense of purpose. If you underwent treatment for a substance use or mental health disorder — or both — YOU were the focus of that treatment. Even if you were encouraged and motivated by loved ones to stick with the program, you ultimately had to shift your attention on yourself to get better. You had a goal to achieve, and a purpose to fulfill. Perhaps it was that purpose that fueled your journey to recovery. Adopting a pet can give you that same sense of purpose because you can give an animal a second chance at life, and even save their life (while letting one save yours).

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute reports that:

  • 74 percent of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health
  • 75 percent of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership
  • 83 percent of baby boomers and 82 percent of greatest (aka silent) generation individuals reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than millennials (62 percent) and generation X (72 percent)

Which Pet to Choose? 

Most people probably think of dogs first when the topic of therapy animals comes up. As for which animals usually participate in recovery for substance abuse (or any other mental health disorder), it’s true that dogs do take the lead. Canines have been bred to serve alongside humans, so their temperament and that they can be trained to be obedient make them ideal therapy animals. It should be noted that using dogs for addiction treatment — or any other animal, for that matter — isn’t likely to remedy the substance use disorder. Rather, animal-assisted therapy can be a fine complement to the treatment process.

The most common therapy animals are dogs and horses, but other animals such as cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds may also be beneficial in addiction treatment. There are even reports of people using ducks and llamas for animal-mediated addiction treatment. There is no specific research that compares the effectiveness of different animals in people with substance use disorders. Researchers believe most therapy animals are equally effective in how pets help recovery.

Other Ways Pets Help Recovery

By simply spending time with animals you can get some of the same benefits of pet ownership. One of the best ways to do this is volunteer at a local animal shelter. By volunteering, you not only get to reap the benefits of experiencing animals’ playfulness and unconditional acceptance, but you can also feel good about supporting an organisation in your community. You will meet new people and also learn how to manage the responsibility of being a volunteer — others will be relying on you to show up when you say you are going to. Helping others is great for your recovery and will give you a sense of purpose. 

Volunteering at an animal shelter can also be a great way to transition to pet ownership when you are ready. Engaging with friends’ pets, or even seeking out specialised animal assisted therapy, such as equestrian therapy where you work with horses and their owners, are other ways you can bring animals and their love and healing into your life and addiction recovery.

The Help You Need for Addiction Recovery

Our team here at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center believes in empowering our patients living with addiction and providing each of them with the time needed to restore their confidence and trust. We strive to transform our patients into the positive, happy, and healthy people that they always were, but had got lost at some point. Our treatment specialist’s purpose is to help those who are struggling with addiction in getting back on the right track!
If you or a loved one could benefit from holistic addiction treatment along with other complementary forms of therapy, don’t hesitate any longer. Contact us today at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center and allow our team to get you the answers you need to make a life-changing choice!