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The Benefits of Pets in Recovery Programs ~ Guest Author

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Guest author: Marissa Katrin Maldonado

Someone in need of treatment for an addiction or mental health condition may come up with lots of excuses why not to go to rehab.  Entering a residential treatment program is a scary and overwhelming step for many to take, so citing reasons for not going is understandable.  One of the more valid reasons has to do with their pet, such as who will care for their pet in their absence, or a deep sense of anxiety around leaving their beloved pet for a month or more. 

Our animals are in many ways our most trusted buddies.  We become attached to their unconditional love, and find limitless joy in their companionship.  For an individual in recovery, having a cherished pet at their side enhances the treatment experience while having many positive psychological and physical benefits.  Pet friendly rehab provide a solution to the concerns about leaving a pet behind, while encouraging those in need of treatment to get the help they need.

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How Pets Impact Physical Wellbeing in Recovery

Prolonged drug and alcohol addiction and mental health conditions can wreak havoc on the body, leaving one in a physically depleted state.  While in recovery, a pet can be quite an asset to restoring health, with many important benefits that enhance overall wellness.  The bond between human and pet has proven to have a variety of positive health effects, as was demonstrated in a study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH).  Results showed a clear benefit of pet ownership in cardiovascular health (cholesterol and triglyceride levels), blood pressure, and heart rates.

Having a dog along in rehab leads to more physical activity in the daily routine, which is great for both physical fitness and improved mood.  Daily exercise in treatment helps the body directly—by improving strength, endurance, flexibility, and stamina—and indirectly, by improving sleep patterns and regulating brain chemistry.

The Emotional Benefits of Having a Pet in Recovery

Going through treatment is emotionally difficult.  In early recovery there are feelings of shame and guilt, anger and fear—with a good dose of anxiety thrown in for good measure.  It is a trying period, so what better antidote than to have the love and attention of a pet cozied up next to you?  Pets are not judgmental, and they are not enablers.  Pets are just there to provide unconditional love and support, which is a huge benefit during rehab and recovery.

Just the daily comfort of a pet in your presence can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress and promote relaxation.  Because stress can be a trigger for relapse, having a pet offers a natural de-stressor, enhanced by walking a dog in fresh air and sunshine.  All of those elements help to diffuse stress, anger, and anxiety.

Other benefits of pets in recovery programs:

  • Just being out and about with your pet will also lead to social interactions that may lead to new friendships—another emotional benefit.
  • Being responsible for someone other than oneself. Pet ownership encourages responsibility and accountability while building confidence and self-esteem.
  • Having a pet in rehab can help with feelings of loneliness that are often experienced in early recovery.
  • A pet promotes a sense of security just by having them at your side.

When it comes time to select a treatment program, consider all the many benefits of a pet friendly rehab.  The reciprocal relationship between a human and their pet is a powerful healing tool during recovery.

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About the Author

Marissa Katrin Maldonado has worked in the behavioral healthcare field for the last 12 years. She is the Founder of The Treatment Specialist, a free nationwide treatment referral service for those seeking inpatient and outpatient addiction or mental health rehabilitation for themselves or their loved ones.