You probably see people walking around the stores with their pets in tow. You may wonder why this is allowed. Or, maybe, you question if this could be a feasible option for you as you recover from addiction.
What Are Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional support animals aren’t service animals. They’re pets who help a person with emotional issues by providing support. The pet may help those with high anxiety to remain calm. Or it might give the person a purpose in life, particularly for those who face depression.
Specifically, a pet becomes an emotional support animal when a licensed health professional, such as a psychiatrist, prescribes the animal to assist the patient with their mental health issue. Unlike a service dog who has specialized training to help a person with a disability, such as blindness or diabetes, an emotional support animal goes through no such training. Additionally, not all facilities can or will accommodate a person with an emotional support animal like they would someone with a service animal. You may enter certain stores with your emotional support pet, but restaurants, unless otherwise noted, might not allow your support pet in the building.
Besides anxiety and depression, a person may have an emotional support animal if they have ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
Dogs and cats are popular support animals, but other animals can fill the role as well, such as:
Do You Need an Emotional Support Animal?
First and foremost, only you and a trained mental health professional can determine if a service animal is right for you.
You’ll need a diagnosis of a mental disorder that would warrant the need for this type of support, like PTSD or schizophrenia.
If you don’t already have a mental health diagnosis, you should consider your symptoms and if you could have an issue that qualifies. For example, you could have anxiety if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Feel restless or tense
- Have a sense of forthcoming danger or doom
- Experience an increased heart rate
- Sweat profusely
- Begin breathing rapidly
- Have difficulty controlling your worry
- Practice trigger avoidance
Sometimes, anxiety will lead to gastrointestinal problems as well.
As mentioned, those with depression could benefit from a support pet. Keep in mind that depression is more than occasional sadness; it’s recurring sadness and possibly a loss of interest. The symptoms you should look out for with depression include:
- Angry outbursts
- Loss of interest
- Feelings of sadness
- Decreased appetite
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
You could benefit from a support animal if you have recurring bouts of loneliness that don’t seem to subside even with satisfactory relationships or if you don’t seem to feel fulfilled despite having an adequate support system.
Keep in mind that when you combat an underlying mental health condition, you’re helping to better manage your drug or alcohol recovery.
When you’re deciding if a support animal is right for you, it’s important to consider the pet’s needs. A pet is a responsibility you have to be willing to take on. While your support animal doesn’t require special training to perform any specific tasks, you’ll need to train it to live in your home.
What Are Some Other Ways Animals Can Provide Emotional Support?
Petting, hugging, or showing any type of affection to a support animal can calm you when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed. A support pet acts as a companion and can decrease loneliness.
When you have a dog as a support animal, you need to make sure it exercises regularly for weight management. As a result, you’ll have a reason to get regular exercise and fresh air yourself. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural feel-good chemicals. They can boost your mood and ease stress.
In terms of drug or alcohol addiction recovery, a pet gives you something to focus on besides yourself and your addiction. You could also benefit by having responsibility.
Depending on the type of pet and your living situation, you may feel safe knowing you have an animal to protect you.
What Are the Other Benefits of Having a Pet?
Although your support animal may impact your mental health and recovery, they’re also a pet, which has health benefits to you.
For instance, studies indicate a relationship between pets and lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate. If you have a pet that you’re physically active with, you may lower your cholesterol levels, including your triglycerides.
How Do You Choose an Emotional Support Animal?
You may train your current pet to be an emotional support animal. However, if you don’t have a pet, you may adopt one or purchase one, preferably from a reputable breeder. As you choose your support animal, you should keep your personal preferences in mind regarding breed and size.
Since your pet will act as a support animal, you should keep the temperament of the breed in mind. You’ll want one that can comfort you when you need it. The Yorkshire terrier breed, for example, is known as a social breed. They’re also known to need a lot of exercise, which will help you keep active and busy with your mind focused on something other than your anxiety, addiction, or other mental health issues.
A support animal can benefit your recovery and mental health in general. Not everyone qualifies for an emotional support animal, but you could if you have a mental condition like depression or anxiety.
akc.org – Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals
pa.gov – Service Animals Allowed
mayoclinic.org – Anxiety Disorders
mayoclinic.org – Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Inpatient Alcohol Rehab
mayoclinic.org – Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress
cdc.gov – How to Stay Healthy Around Pets
akc.org – Yorkshire Terrier
photo cred: https://unsplash.com/photos/Kr29K3_c28A
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