Pet Therapy in Sobriety

Monday, January 8, 2018 | By admin

I think we can all agree that there is no love as pure in this world as the one between people and their pets. No matter what, those little beauties love us. Despite all of our flaws, all of our mistakes in life, and all the mood swings we go through, our pets hold an undying love and affection for us. It’s no wonder why pet therapy is such a blessing for people in recovery!

The utilization of pet therapy in sobriety, or animal-assisted therapy, has pretty much exploded onto the scene over the last twenty years. Treatment centers everywhere are offering their clients the opportunity to partake in activities such as equine therapy, are bring therapy dogs and cats into work, and some facilities even offer their clients to get involved with animal shelters as a form of service work.

How Does Pet Therapy Work?

In drug and alcohol treatment centers, pet therapy in sobriety can look like a whole lot of different things. For many people, equine and canine therapy are the most common. Both species have proven to be amazing, gentle, and compassionate companion animals to work in the therapeutic field. The main goal is that trained and certified animals are used as a therapeutic tool for people who overcoming either addiction, eating disorders, learning disabilities, and more.

  • Equine Therapy: usually involves grooming, feeding, haltering, and leading a horse and will be supervised by both a mental health professional and an equine therapist.
    • The interactions before, during, and after the client and horse interaction allows both professionals to assess any noticed behaviors, emotions, and thought processes with the client.
    • The goal is to provide the client with emotional awareness, empathy, assertiveness, impulse control, independence, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal relationships.
    • The beautiful thing about a horse and human interaction are that many people who are unfamiliar with working around them will often be intimidated at the start.
    • However, when these people see the gentleness and compassion that these animals have, the person will usually feel connected to the horse’s spirit.
  • Canine Therapy – the utilization of trained and certified dogs to assist in therapeutic processes. This form of pet therapy in sobriety can take many different forms.
    • Studies show that canine-assisted therapy lowers blood pressure and slows pulse, increases recovery rates from illness and surgery, decreases depression and anxiety, and increases confidence.
    • Many therapists are now getting their own dogs trained and certified to become therapy assist dogs, and treatment centers are promoting having them around for their extremely high therapeutic value.
    • There is a long-term benefit to canine therapy because people who suffer from long-term and chronic mental disorders because they can actually get their own therapy dog in their later life.

pet therapy cat
Benefits of Pet Therapy in Sobriety

For people in early sobriety, it can sometimes be a jungle inside our heads and hearts. Trying to navigate through years of emotional blocks, guilt, shame, self-hatred, and an overall enthusiasm towards life, getting sober can be rough. Pet therapy for people in sobriety is somewhat changing the game on that.

There are a lot of people out there who use pet therapy in sobriety to help deal with intense anxiety and depression, as well as people who struggle with bipolar and social disorders. Animals work wonders because they are completely non-judgemental, they are able to show emotions and are extremely intelligent.

It is very common for people to use pet therapy in sobriety because many people who are newly sober often have a difficult time expressing their emotions through words. They can often find it difficult to face and deal with the trauma from their past, let alone talk about with another individual or a group. Animals often help break this barrier down – without the use of words.

Animal Behavior and Social Cues

Animals are such valuable therapeutic guides because they are often extremely expressive in their actions. Both horses and dogs, and many other creatures, “wear their heart on their sleeve”. For example, dogs are easy to read because they can wag their tails, their excited panting, their desire to be cuddled and pet, are all clear indications that they are happy.

Horses, on the other hand, are extremely calm and graceful in their affection, and when they are agitated they can put back their ears, shake their head, stomp their feet, etc. Learning to pick up on these physical cues and body language can be an essential tool for people who have difficulty in social situations with other people. These people can often learn a lot from these animals, and relate it back to dealing with human interactions.

Caring for Another

Not through any fault of their own, but many people who are just getting sober lack an ability to relate to others or truly feel for them. They have spent years only looking out for themselves in a sort of survival mode, and because of this, they have not fostered the ability to care for others. The main priority for many was their ability to get drunk or high, which most likely hindered their ability to create healthy relationships.

By working with a horse or a dog, through learning to care for the animal, and learning to see how it expresses emotions, they are able to create relationships and empathy skills within a setting that is safe and free from judgment.


While not all treatment centers offer this form of therapy yet, there is a growing number that is beginning to get on board. As mounting evidence of its benefits is revealed, more and more treatment facilities are offering animal-assisted therapy and hopefully, in the future, this trend will continue.

If you believe that you could benefit from such a therapeutic option then be sure to ask the treatment center you are planning on attending if they offer animal-assisted therapy because, in the end, any and all means that you have at your disposal should be employed in helping to foster your recovery.

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