It’s hard not to smile when you hear the gentle purrs of a sleeping kitten, see a dog rest his chin on your knee, or feel a puppy lick your face. Some pets, especially dogs, are deeply attuned to human behavior and emotions. They can tell when we’re angry or when we’re sad, just by the tone of our voices and our body language. With just their presence, they have an uncanny ability to lift our spirits in a way nothing else can. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “the companionship that a pet offers is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress.”

This is why pets are often used as a means of therapy to improve mental health, including in rehab settings like The Recovery Village. They can also benefit individuals who struggle with mental health disorders that co-occur with drug or alcohol addictions. These co-occurring disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some cases, a healthy mental state can help individuals stay sober and drug-free. If you’re in recovery and trying to cope with a mental illness, consider the many benefits of adopting a pet.

Benefits of Adopting a Pet While in Recovery

Adopting a pet while you’re in recovery for a substance use or mental health disorder can be advantageous, both to you and the animal. It can essentially improve your overall mood, slake your loneliness, and give you a sense of purpose while lowering the chances of drug and alcohol abuse.

Adopting a pet can:

Improve Your Social Life

If you’re newly in recovery, you’re probably still adjusting to your daily life. Perhaps you struggled with drugs or alcohol, along with a co-occurring mental health disorder. Maybe making friends has never been easy for you, or maybe it was before rehab, but it isn’t now. By adopting a pet, it can be less challenging, especially if the pet is a dog, since dogs are most likely to be comfortable with time outdoors.

If you want to give your dog a happy, healthy life, it’s important to walk them regularly, especially if they’re young and active. You can take them around the block or to a local dog park, where you’ll likely be around other people. You might be surprised at the responses you’ll receive, especially if your dog is friendly or has a unique attribute. Some people may want to compliment or pet your dog, or ask you questions. This can serve as your opportunity to share your canine companion’s story, including the one before you met them (if you know it).

Interactions like these can easily lead to new friendships, both for you and your four-legged friend. This was proven by a study featured at Harvard Health Publishing which indicated that pets can help create human-to-human friendships and social supports.

“I didn’t meet many people when I moved into my new neighborhood. But that changed when we got Reesee, our goldendoodle. She opened the door to a new universe of people.”

Dr. Elizabeth Frates, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School 

Reduce Stress and Related Issues

Stress, anxiety, depression. Sound familiar? Dealing with disorders like these isn’t easy, and while professional treatment can make a difference, you need to actively apply healthy coping mechanisms to stay mentally strong. Adopting a pet can help. Petting a dog or cat is an easy way to calm your nerves if you’re dealing with stress or anxiety. In fact, a UK study showed that 55 percent of people claimed to feel more relaxed after spending time petting their dog.

But dogs aren’t the only pets that can relax you. A study by the Cats Protection agency surveyed 600 participants, half of whom struggled with mental health problems. The agency found that 87 percent of cat owners felt their cats had a positive effect on their well-being. In addition, 76 percent said their cats made regular stressors easier to manage.

Having a pet around can also help you manage depression, as one New York woman experienced firsthand. Avigayil Brown struggled with depression for 12 years until she adopted two rescue kittens. Soon after, she started sleeping better and feeling better. “When I was lying in my bed, my cats would come and snuggle with me … It was very calming,” she said. Brown is just one of many individuals who can attest to feeling better because of a pet.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute reports that:

  • 74 percent of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health
  • 75 percent of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership
  • 83 percent of baby boomers and 82 percent of greatest (aka silent) generation individuals reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than millennials (62 percent) and generation X (72 percent)

Give You a Sense of Purpose

If you underwent treatment for a substance use or mental health disorder — or both — YOU were the focus of that treatment. Even if you were encouraged and motivated by loved ones to stick with the program, you ultimately had to shift your attention on yourself to get better. You had a goal to achieve, and a purpose to fulfill. Perhaps it was that purpose that fueled your journey to recovery. Adopting a pet can give you that same sense of purpose because you can give an animal a second chance at life, and even save their life (while letting one save yours).

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide. Of those pets, about 1.5 million are euthanized, even though there are many no-kill shelters. But these numbers can decrease as adoption numbers increase.

If you’re considering bringing a new pet into your home, consider adopting, and visit your local animal shelter or pet rescue facility. There are hundreds of centers all over the country filled with dogs, cats and other pets awaiting their “furever” homes. Just be sure to keep a few things in mind before adopting.

Before You Adopt:

  1. Remember that it’s a long-term commitment that will require time, money, patience, love and understanding. You should see your new pet as you would see a new member of your family.
  2. Be prepared for a thorough application process and possibly a home inspection (adoption policies and requirements vary by shelter).
  3. Make sure you can afford it. While some shelters offer free adoptions on select days, others charge anywhere from $25–$300. Caring for the pet after the adoption will also cost (veterinary visits, food, toys, etc.).
  4. Once you’re fully prepared, find a shelter near you to see what pets are available. You can start your search online or go directly to the shelter first. When you find “the one,” it won’t be long before you’ll turn a homeless pet into a member of your family.

Adoption Resources

To learn more about pet adoption, visit:

If you have questions about treatment for substance use or co-occurring mental health disorders, or about pet therapy at The Recovery Village, call today to speak with someone. Lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.