Can You Bring Your Pets to Treatment?

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Addiction treatment is not an easy process. It’s typically a challenging and uncomfortable journey that can involve a lot of discomfort, both physical and emotional. It requires taking a good hard look at oneself to discover the roots of what led to substance abuse. Withdrawal itself can be incredibly trying. However, the end result of both is well worth the effort.

High dropout and relapse rates have led some addiction treatment centers to reconsider their approach and address whether there’s a better way to help people reclaim their lives. Therapy in general has become less rigid as more and more mental health professionals are becoming open to alternative treatments and treatment aids. These include therapy animals.

Animals have an incredible ability to improve human mood and uplift our spirits. Multiple studies have suggested that owning pets, particularly cats or dogs, can reduce anxiety and depression, which are strongly associated with substance abuse and addiction. For some people, the unconditional love and support of their pets is extremely important – on par with or even more important than that of human family members. And support like this is widely considered to be essential to effective addiction recovery.

The psychological benefits of pets include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Feelings of safety
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • Distraction from issues like cravings
  • Increase physical activity
  • Physical contact that facilitates the release of beneficial brain chemicals

Pets can even improve physical health. Researchers responsible for a 10-year study found that cat owners in the sample were 30 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack than those who did not have a pet cat.

Pets in Addiction Treatment Programs

There are treatment facilities that allow clients to bring pets in with them, either for outpatient or inpatient treatment. Though most facilities are not yet set up to accommodate any animals except for government-issued therapy animals, this is becoming a more common practice.

Outpatient addiction treatment tends to be much more flexible, and individual therapists are more likely to be more open to clients bringing pets than inpatient programs. Outpatient programs allow clients to come in a few times a week for treatment, giving them the freedom to go to work, attend school, or take care of family members around their treatment schedule, and clients sleep at home. This makes bringing in a pet much less difficult, as accommodations for the animal won’t be necessary at the facility.

Inpatient programs, on the other hand, require clients to remain in the facility nearly 24 hours per day for the duration of the treatment, only being allowed to leave for short excursions, usually after some time has been spent in treatment. This virtually eliminates the possibility of relapse during the program, as no intoxicating substances are allowed in the treatment center aside from doctor-approved medications that are dispersed by staff members. This intensive program makes it more difficult to accommodate animals, and these facilities have to be specially set up to handle pets if they are allowed.

Inpatient centers that do allow clients to bring their pets may require that pets are kept inside their rooms for all or the majority of the time, with the exception of dogs that need to be walked to go to the bathroom. Others allow animals in common areas as long as the client is present to supervise them. However, animals will likely have to be left in your room during certain parts of treatment. Centers that allow animals typically require medical records to ensure that they’re up to date on shots. Clients are expected to bring the pet’s normal food, a bed, toys, grooming supplies, and a collar with ID.