Pet Therapy in Recovery

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Pet Therapy in Recovery

A senior black couple playing outdoors with their two dachshunds

“..I feel better now than I did ten years ago. I might have some scar tissue, but that’s all right, I’m still making progress. And when I do think, ‘man, a [expletive] motel room with a couple of thousand dollars worth of narcotics would do me right,’ I just look over at my dog and remember that Buster’s never seen me high.”

-Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

In the above quote, Anthony Kiedis reflects on his time in recovery from drug addiction, noting that sometimes, he still thinks about using again until he realizes that his pet dog, Buster, has never “seen [him] high.” Buster helps Anthony hold himself accountable and provides a therapeutic benefit for his addiction recovery. Pet therapy has been used to help individuals in recovery manage various symptoms, like depression and anxiety. It has also helped individuals develop healthy habits, such as getting outdoors and exercising. What are the ways that pet therapy can help you in your recovery?

Developing Responsibility and Structure

One of the most important aspects of improving one’s overall state of mental health is developing a life with structure and routine. Pet ownership gives a person in recovery something outside of themselves to focus on and be responsible for. Taking care of your dog, for example, can give you a reason to get out of bed at the same time each morning. You will have to schedule daily walks and exercise. You will have to return home promptly after work to let your dog out. For those who feel the desire to drink at a bar after a long day at work, having the responsibility of letting your dog out can help change your habits and reduce your triggers. You can begin to build structure and routine in your own life around your pet’s needs.

While dogs require more time and attention than most other animals, all pets need you to provide for them to be healthy and happy. For example, you may have a goldfish that requires feeding and freshwater. You may have a pet guinea pig that needs food, water, and clean bedding daily. Any pet you choose will depend on you to provide for its needs, which will help you develop a routine for yourself.

Reduction in Anxiety and Depression

Pets have a therapeutic connection to people and help to reduce anxiety and depression. The bond between a person and their pet helps to decrease feelings of isolation or loneliness. Those feelings of isolation and loneliness can contribute to depression, which can trigger habits of using alcohol or other substances. Therefore, healthy coping measures for depression, such as pet therapy, are crucial for long-term recovery.

Anxiety is another common trigger leading to relapse. However, pets have been known to reduce stress by making their owners feel secure and protected.

Additionally, some pets require regular walks or exercise themselves. This is particularly true of dogs. Therefore, having a dog can help you get active. Exercise and time outdoors have been known to have therapeutic value, promote happiness and well-being, and further support your mental health and recovery.

Reducing Boredom and Increasing Social Outlets

One of the biggest triggers for substance use or alcohol abuse is simple: boredom. An idle mind can go to some very dark places. Fortunately, caring for animals can occupy your time and keep you from thinking about using. Even if you cannot care for a pet at your own home, you can still experience the benefits of pet therapy by volunteering at a local animal shelter.

Additionally, caring for animals will increase your social outlets. For example, if you begin volunteering at a local animal shelter, you will likely meet other people who share your passion for animals. If you own a dog, you may meet people at dog parks or when you take your dog out for walks in your community. Who doesn’t love stopping to say hi and pet a friendly dog? These activities are sure to positively impact your overall state of mental health and wellness as you benefit from having something meaningful to fill your time.

Is Pet Therapy for Me?

Countless benefits exist as a result of choosing to engage in pet therapy. Of course, the first question to ask yourself is whether or not you enjoy being around animals. For those that can answer yes, it might be worth giving pet therapy a shot. Having a living creature to care for while in recovery can promote feelings of love, companionship, and support, as well as provide accountability to stay sober and maintain a healthy routine.

Pet therapy may not be the right solution for everyone, but it can be a game-changer for some. The goal of early recovery is to try different things and find the solution which works for you. At a facility like The Kimberly Center, you’ll be provided with the experienced care team you’ve been looking for. If you’re having a hard time figuring out the path of recovery on your own, it’s time to ask for help. The Kimberly Center offers a comprehensive recovery solution, including both inpatient rehab and sober living facilities. Our staff includes passionate and experienced experts ready to help you succeed in ongoing recovery. We have a variety of treatment services for our clients to choose from. If you are suffering from substance abuse or know someone that is, please call us today at (855) 452-3683 for more information. We are here to help you live a healthier and happier life. 

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