How Do Pets Help With Mental Health?

November 12, 2021
pets and mental health | gratitude lodge

Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy can be helpful to provide emotional support to those dealing with mental health issues. Pets can help with your mental health, and some treatment centers are now pet-friendly to allow your pet to join you during your recovery. Some treatment centers offer animal-assisted therapy as part of their programming, including working with horses (equine therapy) or volunteering at animal shelters.

Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Work?

Many mental health and substance abuse treatment programs offer alternative or holistic therapies to supplement traditional treatment methods. While animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is not a “cure” for substance abuse or mental health issues, you can benefit from including pet therapy as a part of your comprehensive treatment program.

According to Heart Views, “Animals make people feel good – and a pet can improve health, studies show. Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, promote social interaction, encourage exercise and playfulness, and provide unconditional love and affection.”

Whether you have a pet of your own or engage with animals as part of your mental health or substance abuse treatment program, many studies have shown that animals and pets can help with your mental health.

The Benefits of Pets For Mental Health

You likely have experienced the feelings and impact of a friendly dog or holding a cat in your arms. As stated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “most people do not need research to convince them that pets and other companion animals enrich our lives, but studies do confirm what we instinctively know — they do.” 

Overall, pet ownership and AAT have several benefits on mental health and recovery from addiction. Whether you get a regular visit from a therapy animal, help out at an animal shelter or sanctuary, or have a pet of your own, animals can help your mental health when you are in treatment. Pets can also help you maintain your wellness and could even help to prevent relapse, as you need to be well to care for your pet.

Pets Provide Companionship

Your pet can help to ease feelings of loneliness, which can contribute to depression or anxiety. During the coronavirus pandemic, many adopted pets to deal with the isolation of social distancing and lockdowns. Pets can help you feel less anxious and afraid of uncertainty.

Pets can also help you feel protected if you live alone, as a dog can ward off any intruders. By having a pet in your home, you might feel more at ease if you live by yourself. When you feel safe and secure, you often feel less anxious and sleep better, improving your mental health and well-being.

Pet Ownership Helps You Create a Routine

If you own a dog, cat, guinea pig, fish, or any other animal, you need to create a routine and schedule to care for your pet. You will usually need to schedule specific times of the day or week for different activities to maintain your pet’s health and happiness.

Even “low-maintenance” pets like a fish or lizard can help you create a routine. You will need to feed your pet and keep their living space clean. For example, you might need to replace the bedding for your rabbit or clean algae from the walls of a fish tank. 

Your Pet Can Help You With Your Physical Health

It’s no secret that mental wellness is connected to your physical health. When you eat right and get exercise, you can better manage stress, overcome anxiety, and cope with mood disorders

Caring for your pet can improve your physical health by getting you out for exercise to walk your dog. If you volunteer with animals, you can exercise by cleaning up after horses or rescue animals at a sanctuary. Some studies show that cat ownership can reduce your risk of fatal cardiovascular diseases.

Pets Can Improve Your Social Life

Whether you meet other people at a dog park or connect with other volunteers at an animal shelter, pets can improve your social well-being. Mental health treatment includes improving multiple dimensions of health and wellness. Forming meaningful connections with others can help you develop healthy self-esteem and build a strong support network during your recovery.

The Importance of Unconditional Love in Recovery

Sometimes, mental health and substance abuse problems can create issues with the essential people in your life. You might experience disruptions in friendships or family relationships if your addiction or mental illnesses caused problems in those crucial relationships.

As you repair those essential relationships, you can still receive unconditional love from your pet. Pets are often happy to see their owners despite any of their flaws or issues. As you build your self-esteem during recovery, your pet can provide you with unconditional love and acceptance — even if your friends and family aren’t quite “there yet.”

Pet-Friendly Rehab in Southern California

Animal-assisted therapy and pets can help you with your mental health while in rehab, active treatment, or continuing recovery. At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, we understand the value of pets and animals during mental health and substance abuse treatment. Our pet-friendly services can help you or your loved one recover from mental health or substance use disorders. Contact us or call (800) 994-2184 to take the first steps in your recovery journey today.

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