Health Benefits of Having a Pet

When you feel comfortable enough in your ability to care for another creature, it might be time to adopt a pet! Not only will your furry (or feathered, or scaly!) friend offer you love and companionship, but also a purpose in your life and proof of your progress in recovery. Below are four benefits of welcoming a pet into your home.

Decreased Feelings of Loneliness

The Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents Survey, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), found that aggressive behavior and lack of familial supervision or bonding predispose an adolescent to substance use disorder (SUD). Anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation are other mental health disorders that increase the risk of developing a SUD.

The unconditional love offered by a pet can generate a sense of calmness and reduce loneliness. Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, contends that humans are happiest when we feel an attachment to other beings. Pets, whether they be mammals like us, reptiles, birds, amphibians, or fish, can offer us a sense of belonging that staves off feelings of isolation.

Animal companionship is linked to an increase in sociability, as well. Once we gain confidence from our BAFs (Best Animal Friends), we feel more capable of forming relationships with humans. Accumulating social capabilities is important for recovery from substance abuse and allows those in recovery to form support groups and build new relationships with people who are not associated with previous drug-related behavior.

Lowered Blood Pressure and Other Bodily Responses

Studies show that petting or playing with a dog or cat can lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and levels of triglyceride. Hanging out with our pets doesn’t just make us feel good mentally and emotionally–spending some quality time with your animal pal has positive physical effects too!

Increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, hormones that trigger feelings of happiness and bonding, result from playing with your pet. Levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, are reduced when hanging out with your feline or canine friend. A study found that pet owners have a more stable heart rate during stressful situations than non-pet owners.

If you feel that a dog is the right companion for you, you will enjoy the health benefits of regular walking. Dogs require plenty of exercise and they’ll need your help. Frequent aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health. Long-term substance abuse deteriorates muscle and impedes function of organ systems and improving heart health with your furry friend is a great way to progress in your recovery.

Productive Use of Time

Individuals struggling with SUD often succumb to impulsivity. With a pet in your life, you will have greater responsibilities, thereby requiring you to assume a more structured lifestyle that leaves less room for poor decisions. Pets, especially larger animals like dogs, cats, or those requiring outdoor shelters like pigs or chickens, demand frequent cleaning, feeding, walking, playing, and other maintenance.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) notifies prospective pet owners that their new companions will need vet visits, constant feeding with healthy foods, access to water, and frequent grooming. You are responsible for providing necessary services for your pet; thus, you need both time and motivation to fulfill your duties as a proud pet owner. Before adopting, consider the monetary cost of owning an animal.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pet pwner spends $500 annually on their furry friend, but other organizations estimate that expenses can reach as high as $1,600 per year. If the cost of owning a pet seems too high for you, consult a veterinarian for options.

Emotional Security and Reduced Stress

Animal-facilitated therapies are effective because animals have the power to reduce stress and instill calm. A 2014 study found that facilities with animal therapies with dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs were effective treatments for alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and schizophrenia.

Dogs are the most common therapy animals, but affection from any animal may be able to calm patients, making them feel safer and more comfortable. Psychologist Herold Herzog of Western Carolina University claims that “Higher survival rates, fewer heart attacks, less loneliness, better blood pressure, better psychological well-being, lower rates of depression and stress levels, fewer doctor visits, increased self-esteem, better sleep and more physical activity” are the short-term benefits of pet ownership.

Though there is scholarly debate regarding the long-term benefits of having a pet, increased emotional security and reduced stress are common reactions to animal companionship, making pet-related therapies effective for treating SUD and comorbid conditions like depression or anxiety. Pet ownership is linked to improved problem-solving and stress-management strategies, suggesting that inviting a pet into your life may complement the skills you are learning in treatment.

If you are considering adding a new buddy into your recovery journey, consult with a therapist to make sure you can support a furry friend. At Silver Lining Recovery, we want to walk beside you as you address your emotional or mental disorders, providing you with the support and advice you need as you progress out of the rehabilitation facility and back into life. Your health is our priority, and we want to provide you with the tools you need to sustain self-care in a balanced and fulfilling life. We will also accommodate any financial needs though Health Net insurance services. If you are interested in taking control of your life, call us today at (866) 884-5758 for a consultation.

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