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Can You Bring a Pet to Treatment?

Pets offer support and comfort for those in recovery, and some treatment facilities may allow you to bring your pet.

There is a specific form of complementary treatment for addictive behaviors that uses animals.

Dog-Friendly Addiction Treatment Centers

The benefits of dog ownership are well researched, and dogs are very important in the lives of many people. Dogs provide companionship and comfort for many people, and if you have a dog, you certainly understand this.

Research studies have suggested that dogs can be useful for people recovering from drug addiction (see below).

Although the majority of rehab centers are likely not going to allow you to bring your dog to treatment, some rehab centers are considered to be “dog-friendly” and may allow you to bring your dog. The only way to determine whether or not a rehab center is dog-friendly is to call and ask. 

Cat-Friendly Rehab Centers

There is certainly research to suggest that petting, cuddling, and interacting with a cat can have positive benefits. Most rehab centers don’t allow cats, but there are pet-friendly rehab centers, particularly long-term residential facilities, that may allow cats.

Other Pets

Some pet-friendly rehab centers may allow other pets like fish in the center; however, there is most likely a limit to the types of animals that rehab-friendly programs will allow. If a treatment center allows pets, there is often a limit to the size of the pet.

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Benefits of Pets in Treatment

There are benefits associated with bringing your pet into treatment with you.

  • Pets can reduce stress.
  • Pets can lower feelings of depression and loneliness, as they provide comfort.
  • Pets can facilitate social interactions with others in treatment.
  • Pets provide companionship.
  • Pets can assist in the treatment of trauma.
  • Pet ownership may reduce the effects associated with certain physical issues, including problems with high blood pressure.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

animal assisted therapy

Animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic technique where the therapist uses a domestic animal to address issues associated with a specific condition.

Animal-assisted therapists typically do not use a client’s pets. Instead, the client interacts with an animal in a manner that fosters a relationship between the animal and the person. This often includes caring for the animal.

The animals in therapy can be dogs, cats, or farm animals like horses (equine-assisted therapy).

There is solid research to support the use of animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of substance abuse.

For instance, one study reported the use of a therapy dog in the treatment of addiction. People who attended group sessions that included a therapy dog demonstrated a more solid recovery than a control group where there was no therapy dog.

The therapy dog strengthened the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the group members. The therapeutic alliance is the working bond between the therapist and their clients, and it is an important component of success in therapy.

Other studies have found similar benefits. Animal-assisted therapy may reduce dropout rates in treatment and result in fewer relapses. 

Not a Cure-All

Although you may find that having your pet with you in rehab is beneficial and animal-assisted therapy can assist your recovery, simply having a pet or being involved only in animal-assisted therapy alone is not recommended for the treatment of substance abuse issues.

There are some caveats associated with pets in treatment and animal-assisted therapy.

  • Animal-assisted therapy is an adjunctive intervention that is designed to supplement and strengthen the effects of research-based treatment. It is not a stand-alone treatment
  • Animals used in animal-assisted therapies are not service animals. They are domesticated animals that therapists use for positive interactions with clients
  • Pets can supplement any treatment intervention, including the use of medicines, psychotherapy, and peer support groups like 12-step groups. If you are going to bring your pet to a group or individual therapy session, you should have permission first.

Although you may consider your pet to be just another person in your life, not everyone shares your love of animals. Being considerate is important. If someone in your rehab center or group does not like animals, it would be inappropriate for you to try and force your animal on them.

Sources

(December 2011) Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Retrieved April 2019 from http://happierhuman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/5.-Friends-With-Benefits-On-the-Positive-Consequences-of-Pet-Ownership.pdf

(November 2010) Use of animal-assisted therapy with psychiatric patients: A literature review. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20873700

(October 2010) Equine-assisted psychotherapy in clinical practice. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. Retrieved April 2019 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20873699

(April 2017) Animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of substance use disorders: A systematic mixed methods review. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin. Retrieved April 2019 from https://bergensklinikkene.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Animal-Assisted-Therapy-in-the-Treatment-of-Substance-Use-Disorders-Man041016-proofs.pdf

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