Taking pets along to rehab, is it a good idea?
A companion animal can make the pain of active addiction more tolerable during the worst of times. Cuddling with a loved pet relieves some of the stress and psychological torture due to drug withdrawal and imbalanced brain chemistry. The love of a pet companion is unconditional. This pure and unconditional love is the foundation of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT).
Bonding with a companion animal, such as a cat, dog, bird, or even a companion reptile, can make all the difference. Study after study has shown that having a comfort animal pet is highly beneficial to people struggling with mental health issues.
Of course, having a loving pet companion does not solve the substance abuse problem. The endless obsession with drugs or alcohol is overwhelming. When will you run out? How will you get more?
The compulsion to keep using drugs or alcohol is also powerful. As much as the companionship of an emotional support animal helps, the longing look of concern in the eyes of your cat or dog is not going to be enough to stop you.
At some point, you are probably going to need outside help to stop using drugs. You may be confronted by your family with an intervention, or legal troubles might be your motivation to finally accept that you cannot do it alone. Your family may even use your love for your pet as motivation, performing an animal assisted intervention, where your pet is present at the family meeting.
How do I find a pet friendly drug rehab?
If you have a loved companion animal at home, your first thought when contemplating rehab may be, how are you going to live without your animal friend? And, how is your pet going to be taken care of while you are away?
In searching for rehab programs, you might start by looking for a pet friendly drug rehab. Going to a pet friendly rehab might solve two major challenges.
First, you know that you will be able to continue caring for your pet companion. Second, you will continue to receive the benefits of pet therapy, such as reduced stress and reduced feelings of loneliness. Animal therapy can be very helpful when combined with traditional counseling.
Fortunately, residential rehab programs have begun to realize the benefits of animal assisted therapy and animal assisted education. Many inpatient and outpatient programs have implemented AAT programs by allowing clients to bring their own companion animals and by providing specialized animal assisted therapy, such as equine assisted therapy, provided by a specially trained therapy team.
Of course, even if a rehab does not allow comfort animals and pets to be brought in by patients, they will still likely allow patients to bring a trained service animal, such as a service dog. Review the policies of your prospective rehab carefully before making a decision.
Are comfort animals limited to cats and dogs? What else is there in AAT other than canine therapy and feline therapy?
Surprisingly, there are a wide variety of species of animals that can serve as therapeutic animals. Cats and dogs are great, being warm and fuzzy, and having intelligence, loyalty, and love for their human companions. Yet, other animals can also serve as therapy pets and evoke similar responses, such as the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that makes a person feel comfort as a result of bonding.
A companion reptile might be your ideal companion pet, providing a sense of comfort and ease. While you may think a cold-blooded creature, such as a reptile, cannot be a loving companion, many people find comfort in the companionship of a large lizard, such as a pet iguana or monitor.
Speaking of monitors, I once had a friend in medical school who had a savannah monitor as a pet. While she did not necessarily describe the animal as a comfort lizard, it definitely functioned as one. In fact, she was able to sleep with the lizard, cuddled up against her, throughout the night.
Because the monitor lizard had grown up from a baby to adulthood with his one human companion, he was accustomed to her and able to bond readily. He was not such a friendly lizard with anyone else.
Normally, such creatures would not be considered good therapy animals because they tend to be vicious, biting humans fingers with their sharp, inward-pointing teeth and not letting go. However, in this case, my friend was very close with her pet lizard who served for many years as her therapy reptile.
Even a pet fish might help a particular person in relieving stress and anxiety, as well as providing the known health benefits of therapy animals, such as reduced blood pressure, and even reduced cholesterol and triglycerides. The therapeutic benefits of Koi, for example, are well known.
What about an emotional support bird?
Therapy birds are also helpful to people who have formed a bond with their pet bird. Some birds live long lives and have spent many years with the same human companion. The unspoken communication and bonding between human and bird can make all the difference in helping someone to overcome an addiction.
Therapy birds, such as parrots, Cockatiels, or Sun Conures, make excellent companions. They sometimes talk, provide comforting sounds, and even nuzzle with their human friend. Feeding and caring for your therapy animal is also a rewarding activity that can help you to get through the difficult times that come with early addiction recovery.
Even if you do not currently have a pet bird to bond with, you may be interested in starting with a bird as your companion animal. They make excellent pets and can be easier to care for compared to dogs and cats. Consider looking for local therapy birds for sale if you think a bird companion might work best for you.
Keep in mind that birds do live long lives and taking on a new pet can be a long-term commitment. However, fine birds are often in demand, so if your bird companion does not work out, you will likely be able to return it to the bird shop or easily find someone to take over care of the bird.
What other animals make good emotional support pets?
In the world of zootherapy, there are many possibilities of animals that can provide loving support. There are therapy hamsters, and even therapy squirrels. While horse therapy is often employed by residential rehabs and horses are popular pets for people who can manage a horse, you will likely not be able to bring your own horse to rehab.
Nearly any animal that can bond with a human and serve as a pet may make a good therapy animal for a human in need of mental health support. While there are certainly wild animals that should not be pets and would not make adequate support animals, the rule of thumb is that if it can be a pet, it can be a therapy pet.
Even a rat can serve as an emotional support pet. For that matter, so could a ferret, a turtle, or even a snake. I have certainly known people who were comforted by the companionship of their loving pet rat or pet ferret.
Regarding large-animal therapy, horses are not the only therapeutic animals used in animal assisted activity to treat addiction. Dolphin assisted therapy is also a well-accepted and beneficial form of AAT. Treatment provided with a dolphin in the water can be used to provide physical therapy as well.
The social interaction between human and therapy dolphin can be very calming and deeply therapeutic. Of course, make sure that the facility you attend focuses on animal welfare and treating their therapy animals appropriately.
How would I go about bringing my pet to rehab? Can you bring your pets to rehab without saying anything to the nurses?
When going to a rehab that is pet friendly, you will want to check on the requirements for bringing your animal. Rules and restrictions will vary from one facility to another with respect to taking pets along to rehab.
Some rehabs may restrict the type of pet you are allowed to bring. Even if you have a therapy rat or a therapy ferret, the facility may only allow cats and dogs.
Additionally, the rehab may require shot records and a clean bill of health from the veterinarian. It is important to review the rules regarding pets carefully so there are no unpleasant surprises when you show up for intake.
When you are in rehab with your pet, while you can enjoy the comfort and reassurance of having your therapy animal with you to reduce anxiety and distract you from cravings, you will also have additional responsibilities. You will be responsible for providing food and water for your pet. You will also have to clean up your pet’s area. If you bring a dog, it will be your job to take it out for walks.
It can be a lot of work, taking care of an animal while in rehab. But, animal assisted therapy can dramatically improve your experience in rehab. Your comfort animal can help to sooth your concerns over safety and feelings of loneliness. Pet ownership and animal companionship can be beneficial for nearly any mental disorder, including post traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and dementia.
Bonding with your pet can make the rehab experience much more tolerable. You may find that you get more out of rehab with the help of your therapy pet. Rehabs that provide an animal assisted therapy program, allowing you to bring your own pet, are an excellent way to involve your pet in your recovery process.
Can a therapy pet help with concierge MAT visits?
Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is addiction treatment that includes prescribed medication combined with therapy. There is effective medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and alcohol addiction.
MAT is now included in the services provided by many rehabs. However, you may be able to go to a private, concierge doctor for confidential and convenient medical addiction treatment.
While it is great to have your pet with you to comfort you through the rehab experience, it may not be the best experience for your pet. Your pet is likely used to its environment and routine. Imagine your pet being confined to your rehab bedroom where space is limited and you will probably have a roommate.
You will be able to spend time in rehab with your pet, but for much of each day, your pet will be confined to the room alone, waiting for you to return from therapy or group. The sudden change of routine and environment may be disconcerting for your pet.
If you are able to see a private doctor for addiction treatment, without rehab, your home life and routine does not change. Your therapy animal gets to stay with you in the home without any disruption.
What about doctor visits? While medical appointments with MAT are usually weekly or monthly, you may still find comfort in having your pet with you at these visits with your doctor.
Our concierge addiction treatment practice is pet friendly. We have had a wide variety of dogs in the office accompanying their human friend. Big dogs, small dogs, medium dogs. If they are well-behaved, they are welcome.
We also have patients in our practice who have cats, reptiles, fish, and other pets. So far, only dogs have visited the office, but our patients do have many types of animals for comfort.
What about comfort animals and virtual telemedicine Suboxone visits?
Whether you are seeing your doctor for Suboxone, ZubSolv, Subutex, Bunavail, or some other buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction, or you are getting naltrexone prescribed for alcohol addiction, you may be seeing your doctor via telemedicine video call.
Remote virtual visits have become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Addiction treatment works particularly well over distance virtual telehealth visits. Of course, seeing your doctor from the comfort of your home with a video call is the least disruptive of all. There is no need for bringing your therapy dog or therapy cat into the office if you see your doctor on a video call. You and your animal can rest easy and enjoy the comforts of home.
Interestingly, I have noted that patients often have their comfort animal with them during our call. They may be holding a cat in their hands or on their lap, or they may have an affectionate dog nearby. Even if your concierge doctor is kind and understanding, it can be helpful to have the moral support of your pet partner while you speak to the doctor by video call.
While MAT provides convenience and minimal interruption to your life, you should be aware that it also has a very high success rate. Not only does your pet get to stay home and stay comfortable, you get to recover with a much higher success rate than rehab alone, while still benefiting from the human animal bond.
How can I get the benefits of animal assisted therapy if I do not have a pet?
At this point, you may be wondering how you can benefit from the non-judgemental love and affection of a warm, furry friend, or even a leathery, reptilian friend. The proven benefits of pet therapy are clear. Yet, if you do not have a pet, you may be wondering where to get started.
First, it is important to consider any reasons why you should not have a particular type of animal in your home. Do you have asthma or allergies? Does anyone else in your home have respiratory problems or animal allergies, or any other medical condition that might be worsened by the presence of an animal?
Second, if you are seriously considering getting a pet, think about what kind of pet would work best for you. Do you like cats? Or, do you prefer dogs? Or, maybe you want to get started with a fish, or even several fish. If you were not allowed to have a pet as a child, it can be exciting to start planning for your first pet.
In addition to the peaceful and meditative act of watching fish go about their activities in a fish tank, the maintenance routine can be therapeutic as well. Keeping up with maintaining your fish tank and keeping your fish healthy provides a sense of purpose and responsibility.
While I have discussed reptiles as therapy animals, I am no expert and could not recommend the best pet lizards for beginners. If you are a person who enjoys reptiles and you choose to have a reptile as your animal comfort companion, you may want to consult with local reptile enthusiast groups for more information.
Can I find animal assisted therapy near me to try it out without taking on the responsibility of a pet?
It is true that a pet is a major responsibility. How can you get experience with animals without committing right away to adding a new member to your family?
You might want to consider volunteering at your local animal shelter. Volunteering is a rewarding activity that can also help you get through early recovery from addiction. The act of selfless service to help others is a positive experience that helps you to connect to the spiritual aspect of recovery.
Working at an animal shelter, you will have the experience of working with dogs or cats. Your daily contact with these animals will help you to decide what might work best for you. Additionally, you will also get experience in caring for a pet.
Possibly, during your time in volunteering, you will fall in love with a shelter resident, dog or cat, and decide to adopt. Helping out in the local animal shelter could lead to a new life with your animal therapy companion!
How do you find an animal therapist who provides professional animal assisted therapy?
While rehabs offer equine therapy, where you get to interact with horses as part of the rehab experience, you do not have to go to rehab to benefit from equine therapy. There are private equine therapists and other therapists who provide an AAT program. Animal assisted psychotherapy is a nice alternative to traditional therapy.
For example, there are goat therapy providers who have their clients interact with baby goats. Young goats are energetic, playful, and loving creatures that provide a sense of comfort as they run around and interact with you. Goat therapy is an excellent form of human animal interaction with one of the best AAT animals.
You may have heard about goat yoga, or a family doctor or physical therapist who keeps goats in their clinic in the news or on social media. While it may seem almost like a joke, goat therapy is a real thing and people do find the interaction with these cheerful little animals to be helpful in overcoming difficult life experiences, such as addiction.
The benefit of professional animal assisted therapy is that you will work with a professional therapist who can facilitate the animal interaction during your therapy session to get the best results. Also, maintaining horses or goats is not the same as having a pet hamster, ferret, cat, dog, lizard, or fish. Most people are not prepared to care for these animals that are more at home on a farm than in an apartment or house.
What if I cannot find an equine therapist near me?
Horses are known to have a special connection to humans. They reflect the emotions and feelings of the person who is standing in front of them. Horses can act almost as a natural form of biofeedback, helping you to adjust your personal energy in response to your connection with the horse.
While there may not be a professional animal assisted therapist who provides equine therapy near you, you may be able to attend a local stable where horse-riding lessons are provided. If horseback riding lessons are available in your area, you can learn how to interact with a horse, which can be very therapeutic.
Should I avoid a rehab program if they do not allow me to bring my pet with me?
Getting back to pet friendly rehabs, I believe that making the decision of whether to go to a particular program or not based on being allowed to bring your pet is not the best way to choose a rehab. Unfortunately, there are rehabs that offer many gimmicks to attract clients.
If you see the usual suspects of offers in an ad for a rehab, such as gym membership, cable tv, couples housing, and pets being allowed, you may want to research further. There are rehabs that will do anything to get their hands on a patient’s insurance card, and many do not provide the best in addiction treatment.
Private drug rehab centers must provide quality addiction treatment as their number one priority.
While researching rehabs, you should look at what kinds of therapy are offered and if they provide medication-assisted treatment for conditions such as alcohol and opioid addiction. Also, consider the overall level of medical care. Consider a residential rehab to be a healthcare facility that should address all aspects of your health.
When you find the rehab that is just right for you, if they do not allow you to bring your pet, you may want to ask around to see if a friend or family member can care for your pet while you are in rehab. You may be surprised to find out that your loved ones are more than willing to help you in any way possible when you are ready to start the journey of recovery from addiction.
And, keep in mind that there are also outpatient and private clinic alternatives for addictions that respond well to MAT. For example, if you are looking for opioid addiction treatment or alcohol addiction treatment, you may get the same or better results by seeing a local doctor experienced in treating those conditions.
In fact, seeing a concierge physician for addiction treatment allows for a private, confidential experience where you do not have to make any changes to your lifestyle. If you have a pet, you can continue to care for your pet at home. And, the results of treatment are often as good or even much better than what is provided by many rehabs.