There are many beneficial reasons to be a pet owner. But, with owning pets becomes a lot of responsibility – financially and otherwise. Be sure you are able to provide for your pet, this includes not only having the appropriate space (i.e. if you live in a small apartment with no free outside space to roam, don’t get a large dog) but also the ability to pay for all the necessary vet expenses (even a healthy pet has to go to the vet periodically).
For those of us in recovery, having a pet can be a huge support. Research shows that having pets can positively affect our mood and overall health. It’s probably most obvious that pets provide certain immediate joys such as companionship and having “someone” to come home to after work but, most people aren’t aware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also come with playing with and snuggling up to your furry friend.
It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the bond between humans and their pets. Among some of the findings, a few surprising facts are that:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than people without pets.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and pulse rate.
Should I get a pet in recovery? Why Pet Therapy Works
One of the reasons that pet therapy works is that most pets fulfill the most basic human: the need for touch. Holding, stroking, cuddling, or simply touching a loving animal can instantly calm and soothe us when we’re stressed. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and some pets are a great motivation to get into a regimen for healthy exercise, which can significantly boost mood.
Pet therapy has been used in hospital and hospice settings for a while now and has begun to be used in prison settings; even hardened criminals have shown long-term positive changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, where many of them are experiencing mutual affection for the first time.
This gets even the most hardened criminals right in the feels
Pets Can Help Us Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can play an important role in easing symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Having pets that make us be more active can also support us in our recovery program. When we care for a pet that requires exercise, such as an active dog, it can help us make healthy lifestyle changes by:
Getting more exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to involve a boring regimen at a gym. Taking a dog for a walk, riding a horse, or just chasing a kitten around are fun ways to get a daily dose of healthy exercise.
Providing companionship. In recovery, we know the dangers of isolation and loneliness. Caring for a loving pet can help make you feel both needed and wanted, take focus off of your problems, and boost self-confidence by being responsible for another living being.
Meeting new people. In the past, we used alcohol and other drugs to ease us into social interactions but, pets can be a great social lubricant. For example, dog owners often stop and talk to each other while walking their dogs or while at a dog park. Other ways to meet other people with similar interests is in pet stores, training classes, and other pet-related clubs and associations.
Adding structure and routine to your day. For those of us in recovery, we recognize the importance of structure and routine in cultivating new and healthy habits. Being a pet owner can support you in having both structure and routine to your daily schedule. For example, pets require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. And no matter how you feel on a given day – depressed, stressed, or anxious, you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.
And remember: a pet doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. Having a low-maintenance pet such as fish can be just as beneficial.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.