10 Reasons Why Pets Help ADHD.

pets-and-adhd

Photo by Reanna Evoy.

Pets can have very positive effects on your ADHD symptoms. Author of the bestselling “10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD” Stephanie Moulton Sarkis has Dalmatian dogs and says

Pets, in studies, have been found to lower blood pressure and improve overall quality of life.  Dogs especially help get people exercising – and exercising has been found to be an effective non-medication treatment for ADHD

I asked Untapped Brilliance blog readers to tell me how their pets affect their daily lives.  Most people had either cats or dogs. However, rabbits, guinea pigs and fish were also popular.

There were so many amazing replies. Thank you for taking the time to email me!  I compiled the answers into the list below.

1) Self-esteem

Low self-esteem and ADHD tend to go hand in hand. However, having a pet can help to  increase your self-esteem. Having someone who has missed you and is always excited to see you, makes you feel really good.  ADHD pet owners also feel really proud of themselves for taking care of their pets. Sometimes it is the first time they have ever been able to take consistent daily action. This builds their confidence and has a ripple effect on other parts of their lives. Some owners told me that they were barely able to take care of themselves, yet when they got their pet, it forced them to raise their game. Not only did they become outstanding pet owners, they also started taking better care of themselves too.

2) Maintain Structure and Routine

Almost every single reader mentioned how their pets help them with structure.  Having structure, routines and habits  provides a framework in your life, so you can effortless take care of all of your responsibilities and still have time for creativity and fun.  ADHD symptoms can make  setting up structure and maintaining it tricky.  Pets are very helpful in this area!

Here is what Marcia wrote about her dogs and routines:

My dogs: I cannot imagine living without my dogs. They keep me on a routine, which I really need. Without a routine, I’m afraid I would push myself too hard and get far out of balance.

I tell my dogs they have clocks in them. They get me up in the morning if I forget to set my alarm, and they tell me when it’s time to go to bed at night. If it gets to be 11 pm and I’m not moving towards the bedroom, Liesl barks at me until I do. There is just no option of continuing to sit at my computer or continuing to watch TV while there is a 12-pound dog barking at me!

Also, I like to work and often try to continue working past dinner time. This is also not possible, as Gracie lets me know it’s time for dog food and a walk by 5:30 or 6 pm — and she is very insistent. Sometimes I just try to feed them and then go back to work, but then Gracie is up on my lap with her paws on my keyboard and her nose in my face.

After dinner is our play, snack, and cuddle time, and if I’m not doing it, I have two sets of intense eyes on me staring and taking turns barking as they sit at my feet. They know how to get me up and moving, and it always makes me feel looked after in a gentle and fun way. 

Marcia Hoeck www.marciahoeck.com

3) Focus on The Now

Lots of readers mentioned that when they are with their pet, there brain slows down, and they are able to focus on the present moment. This has a calming and almost meditative effect.

Terry Matlen describes this effect beautifully:

Having grown up with dogs and having a dog  –  or two –  throughout my life as an adult, I can’t imagine living without one. For me, the connection between ADD and having a dog is about a sense of calmness I get when I’m petting one of them or simply hanging out with them. It slows me down, slows my brain and offers comfort.

Of course, people without ADD might say the same thing, but having mine near me, especially after a hectic, stressful day, helps me to focus on something outside of myself. I stop worrying (what did I forget? What should I be doing?), and cuddling with my Elliott or Harper stops my racing brain, allowing me to slow down and connect with another living being- one that has zero expectations of me (for the most part) so that I can enjoy the moment. 

Terry Matlen

www.ADDconsults.com and www.QueensOfDistraction.com

4) Love You Just The Way You Are

Your pets love you unconditionally. They never get mad or judge you even if you forgot to take the trash out. They can see you at your worst, including the parts you hide from other people, and they still adore you.

One reader described it perfectly:

I love my dogs because they see me without my ‘mask’. They see my chaotic life as it really is and not the one everyone else sees, and they still love me for it, unconditionally.

Although I love my sons, I would give my life for them, but I find showing love towards my dogs is easier somehow. You can show them your tears, and they instinctively respond with a calmness that gives you an inner piece, then things just seem a whole lot better.

They don’t mind that I’m disorganized or slop about in my PJs when the ‘wheels fall off’…I just wish I could train them to find my keys though.

5) Reduce Stress

Living with ADHD is stressful! Research shows that it only takes 15 to 30 minutes with your cat or dog or even watching your fish for chemical changes to take place in your body and for you to feel less anxious and stressed. Lots of readers mentioned how their pets helped them to feel less anxious. In one longitudinal study it was found that people who didn’t own a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than people who did. Another study showed that cat owners had fewer strokes than non-cat owners.

6) Body Double

There is a term in the ADHD world called ‘body double’. A body double is usually a friend, family member or coach.  This person sits with you while you are doing something stressful, mundane or boring to  keep you on task.

Well in some situations (it depends on the task and your pet), your pet can be your body double substitute. Their presence can reduce your anxiety as you make that difficult phone call or file your taxes.

7) Help with Depression

One reader wrote to say that she credits her dogs in helping her deal with  bouts of depression that she has experienced throughout her life.

Unconditional love, a reason to get up in the morning, companionship, exercise in the form of walks, and getting out into the sunlight for some green therapy, are some of the ways that pets can help with depression.

8)  A Problem Shared

A reader told me that he always felt different from everyone else when he was growing up.  His black cat was the only one he could tell his problems to. Every day his cat learned about the struggles with teachers, friends and homework.  He would stroke his cat, whisper in his ear and then felt much better. A problem shared is a problem halved, and you don’t always need a solution, just a listening ear.

 9) Social Contact

Social interaction is vital to our mental and physical health. However, many ADHDers find social interactions difficult perhaps because they are shy, have social anxiety or are in hibernation in mode. Many people with ADHD also experience a deep loneliness.

Having a dog can help with all of these issues. Studies found that dog owners have many more interactions with other people when they are walking their dog than a non-dog owner walking the same route. Having a dog is an ice breaker. People will come and talk to you, and if you can’t think of anything to say, you can talk about dogs. The social interaction resulting from walking your dog helps you to  gain confidence with  talking to people in other situations.

10) Fun

Pets bring an element of fun to your life in 3 ways.  They force you to go out and have fun adventures together, they get into mischief, or their daily habits and quirky mannerisms make you laugh.

Here are some things that my cat kitty does that make me laugh.

*When she sees  food she would like to taste, she licks her lips in advance.

*She always senses when we are heading to bed and runs to secure the best spot on the bed for herself.

*When she is taking a nap, she covers her eyes with her paw as if the light is too bright.

How does your pet help your ADHD symptoms?

Comments

  1. Jacques says:

    Hi. I am an adult ADHD male. 40. I have been a dog person all my life, but have always had one problem with them. Though I connect well with dogs and they are my life, the H in my ADHD seems to often be a problem for them. I love to cuddle with my dogs, but they HATE it when I can’t lie still. A leg that rattles or when I turn. I try to be gentle, but they dislike the disruption and always end up preferring to sleep nearby or at my feet. My cats do not mind the busy physicality. But is there a dog breed that would be more prone to be forgiving around this and lap around with me like my cat does? The Pomeranians got cl0se, but still not completely forgiving.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hello! My name is Sarah and I am currently a college student but looking into possibly adopting a dog once I have a stale income and place. I really think having a dog would help me (and also I love dogs and have always wanted one) in all the areas you mentioned! All great points and thank you for taking your time to write this post!

    So! Basically the question I wanted to ask is for is for a first time dog owner with combined type ADHD living alone, what sort of breed/age would you recommend? Do you recommend adopting a dog or something else?

    I know this is a really old post but I see you were still answering comments from earlier this year so figured I’d give it a shot. XD

  3. Mera says:

    Hi Leza,
    It’s Jacqueline’s friend, Mera, here. Jacqueline asked me if I had any ideas that might help you with the bond between your son and your dog.

    Firstly let me say that I can hear in your voice how much you want this to work for your son! I can provide you with a few tips that might help you to address the situation. Please bear in mind, however, that your dog is still a puppy and is looking to have his own needs met and therefore may not yet be ready to settle down as a companion dog. It may take a while, as your dog matures, to see a bond develop between your son and the dog. Also, dogs often bond with one family member more than others. As your dog seems to be getting its needs (training, attention) met from your younger son, it is natural that this is the person that the dog has gravitated towards. The only way to create a bond is to create love. And love takes time spent together. Since your son has ADHD, you may have to be present to facilitate the development of a relationship between your son and the dog, at least during the puppy stage. Also, it is important that neither your son nor the dog becomes frustrated. Dogs pay a lot of attention to what a person does instead of what they say. They also pick up on people’s feelings such as anxiousness, nervousness, fear etc. If your son experiences any of these feelings, the interaction sessions should be kept short and then gradually increase them as the two become more comfortable with each other. The key is to create a calm, positive interaction, for both. What a dog wants, more than anything else, is to be with a kind and loving master.
    Some tips that might help:
    • You and your son should walk the dog together, with your son holding the leash. The dog will associate your son with the positive experience of going for a walk. And, in the dog’s eyes, the holder of the leash is the dog’s master.
    • Stop at dog park for a few minutes and have your son toss a ball for the dog. This will create some time away from the home for your son and the dog. He will also see other people interacting with their dogs.
    • Your son should be the only person that feeds the dog, including treats.
    • Your son should not be involved in anything that the dogs finds negative – e.g. bathing, medication, trips to the vet.
    • Do have your son involved in things that the dog enjoys, such as playing, brushing, stroking, caressing, and cuddling.
    • If the dog has a favourite toy, your son could be the keeper of the toy. The dog will come to associate your son with this positive reward. And this will give your son an important role in the dog’s life.
    • If possible, have the dog sleep in your son’s room. This does not have to be in bed with him. In a basket or crate is fine.
    • As much as possible, include the dog in all of your son’s positive activities – storytime, outings, play dates with friends, watching television, etc.
    • Watch movies and read books about children and dogs. Your son will learn about the dog/child bond. He will see other children interacting with their dogs in a positive way.
    • As much as possible, encourage your son to make eye contact with the dog – the dog will see the love in his eyes. You could make a game of it for example, where you each take turns describing each other’s faces (eyes in particular), and then the dogs face. Or, you could look at the dogs face and draw a picture, again, focusing on its eyes.
    • Patience, patience, patience. This is a new experience for both your son and the dog. Changes in the dog’s behaviour may be subtle. It may seem like you are taking two steps forward, one step back. And, your dog is still a puppy – with a short attention span of its own!
    Something that should also be considered, is the reaction of your younger son to this emphasis on creating a bond between the dog and his brother. I am sure that he loves the dog and wants to spend time with it and seeing his brother get this attention might be difficult for him.

    Dear Leza, please let me know, through Jacqueline, how you get along with creating this bond between you and your son. I wish you and your family all the best. If you need more personalized help, I offer 1.1 Dog behaviour consults and would be delighted to help you further. Just let Jacqueline know and she can put us in touch. Mera

  4. Leza DiBella says:

    Hi there. I’m hoping someone can help. My family and I recently adopted a 6 month old maltese shitsu mix in part because my 10 year old with ADHD really wanted a dog and we read alot about how pets could be beneficial for building relationships/provide unconditional love, etc. for kids who have ADHD. We also have an 8 year old son (who doesn’t have ADHD) and as par for the course, had the attention span to participate more in the training classes and is gentler with the dog then my older son. As a result, the dog clearly favors my younger son. This of course upsets my older child — who the dog was really meant for. Any suggestions on how to re-train the dog to bond with my child with ADHD. We’ve stressed the need for my son to be gentler with the dog, to be more in-tune with the dog’s reactions to his attempts to “play” (which is of course difficult for my son- who also suffers from social delays) and have my older son feeding the dog — but so far, nothing has worked. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Leza..I asked my friend and dog expert, Mera to help you with your question because she is very knowledgable on this sort of thing!. warmly
      Jacqueline

    • Great stuff Dave. I’d only add that once you walk away commit to it and BE HAPPY with that decision! A lot of women fall into a trap of settling for someone because they feel/think their worthiness needs the validation of a relationship (even if its dylntfcuionas).

    • Hi, I’ve raised, shown and lived with dogs my whole life and I can feel your pain with the dog choosing their person. A dog who has been MY dog for seven years ditched me for my husband when we moved and out setup changed – little traitor!

      Here is what can help…have your son who the dog was supposed to be for be responsible for the dog. He should feed the dog, take her outside for potty breaks, etc. He should also be the one to give her treats and anything fun.

      If you can be a two dog family, you might adopt a larger dog that enjoys more rough and tumble play (Lab-mix, Lab, Golden etc.) and have you older son pick the dog (with guidance, of course). A Maltese/Shih Tzu is a true toy breed mix and will probably always prefer a gentler touch.

      Of course, sometimes dogs know better than we do and form a bond with someone for reasons unknown to us. Keep in mind you may have to honor that bond! Hope this helps in some way!

      Kathy

  5. Jen says:

    Wendy, I can only echo Jacqueline–that is an awesome relationship you have built with your kitty. I wasn’t aware cats could be trained in that way. This could help a lot of people. Maybe you could share more about how you did this? Write a book perhaps, or make a website. 🙂

  6. It can be hard at first, but once you establish a routine — and really start enjoying/looking forward to it, it’s a good daily reconditioning pattern that helps work against ADHD habits. My hobby (and work) is writing and I can tell you it really helps.

  7. Wendy S says:

    I know this is a really old blog post, but I stumbled on it so maybe someone else will as well.

    I have a cat and I couldn’t manage without him. Yes, he provides comfort and unconditional love, but he also keeps me on track. I used to work with chimps and sign language, so when I got a kitten, I placed a very high priority on his communication skills and on shaping gestures he used naturally. I also used food puzzles and other things to keep his mind active. He knows what time I need to be up for work in the morning. Unless I tell him the night before that we can sleep in, he pokes me awake 3 or 4 minutes before the alarm. If I space out cuddling with him, he gives me a minute or so, and then he stands up and uses his limited gestures to say firmly, “You. GO,” and waits to make sure I’m up before he leaves the room. He knows how long it takes me to wash and dress. If I dawdle too long deciding what to wear, he’s in the doorway checking to see what’s taking so long. If I leave something in the oven and forget about it, or leave a burner on after I’ve taken a pot off it, he lets me know. Sometimes I assume he’s just looking for attention and scold him for making a ruckus when I’m trying to focus, but if it’s a safety issue, he won’t stop until I give up and say, “FINE! SHOW me what’s wrong,” and then he leads me to the stove, or wherever the issue is. He’s most certainly the grown-up in the relationship.

  8. Tina Blair says:

    This’s for Linda and her response to Michelle

    Wow, what a great set of comments. So sorry M never got back to you so I could read your response.

    For those who might be interested, I’m on my second rescue dog. My first was a 6 month Jack Russell Terrier who passed at 12 yrs 10mos (diabetes and kidney disease). She was a total “impulse” adoption. I new nothing about JRT’s. She turned out to be less hyper than me and came with STOP (the most important) and SIT commands. Eventually, she passed Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog courses. Life would’ve been a bit easier if I knew more about her prior home AND why she was surrendered.
    Two weeks ago I got my second dog from my local shelter. He came with info from the shelter (there longer than normal b/o a post-neuter infection) and several pages of info from his foster mom (brought to vet to be euthanized because owner had too many dogs (she brought in 2 others also). The foster housed him till a shelter could take him.

    I love terriers but wanted a non-shedder. He’s a 4 yr old Poodle/Yorkie mix!!

    I got to this site because he needs basic manners and I have ADD and I need advice…I do not have much patience.

    My specific needs: 1) Friendly to guests in my house; 2) STOP; and 3) SIT. With advice on the, I could probably do more

    PS I absolutely agree: NO PUPPIES

    PPS. What breeds would you have recommended

  9. DP says:

    I’m a veteran who has suffered clinical depression and ADHD from youth. My pets have been of tremendous therapeutic value, dogs and cats alike. Besides, pets improve the quality of life for anybody.

  10. Mae says:

    Hello. I am a huge dog lover but I have really bad ADHA and anxiety. I have a dog but shes not trained and I get annoyed. I still lover her with all my heart but I was wondering if there is a certain breed that would be good for me.

  11. Linda says:

    Hello

    This response is for Michelle’s post.

    Hi Michelle hope you’re well. I was informed that you were seeking some guidance with regards to finding a family dog. While I understand that you’d prefer to have a puppy, it’s important to acknowledge how crucial it is for a puppy to have consistency with training. This will help avoid unwanted behaviour, such as biting, and it also helps with creating a bond with your pet. If this is something that may be difficult to commit to then you may want to consider adopting an adult dog. The advantage with that is that they will typically already have basic training. You most certainly will still develop a bond with your pet as he/she gets to know your routine. Your family can focus on teaching tricks and other playtime activities. It is crucial for puppies to have routines and consistency, otherwise you’ll end up feeling overwhelemed and frustrated when results you expect do not appear… for example having accidents in the home, chewing on shoes furniture, etc. While having a pet provides therapeutic benefits, it’s very important to be familiar with the financial responsibility involved. It is rather expensive to own a puppy at first since you have the costs of vaccines + boosters, deworming, cast ration/spaying, and training classes. Plus, don’t forget the unexpected incidents such as illness which could end up requiring long term medical care, and, as I am experiencing now with my baby boy who is now 12, there are the costs of an aging pet. On a personal note, I have so far spent about what it would cost to take 2-3 trips down south (And I don’t regret a cent).
    So if you are prepared for this type of financial obligation, in order to recommend a breed of dog for your family I would need to know a little bit more about your lifestyle. A rule of thumb is to get a dog that would match your lifestyle. If your family is active and outdoors often then I would look into a breed that enjoys/needs active exercise, being outside and needs to be stimulated by being given a job to do. Other questions;
    – do you have a yard
    – do you travel a lot
    – what’s the home environment like
    – who will primarily be responsible for your dog (walking, feeding, etc.)
    – what does your family typically in their spare time (ex. TV, relax n the couch, jogging, etc…)
    – how much would you tolerate cleaning hair
    Those are just a few…I would most certainly be happy answer more questions or provide you with more input. Plus, if you need names of reputable rescue organizations I have contacts I could share with you. Always important to not support pet stores and puppy mills.
    I hope this is helpful and I hope I didn’t overload you with too much info. I’d love to help your family with making this decision. It’s absolutely wonderful to her that you are doing your homework by seeking guidance to getting the right dog for your family. 🙂

    Linda

  12. Erik says:

    What would you say to getting a snake as a potential pet? I have very serious allergies to anything with fur or hair (even small rodents) and so I was going to go the reptile route.
    I’ve done my research about them and well based on the relatively slow movement and ease of feeding (compared to a dog), I feel as I will benefit from having a snake with me.
    Let me know your inputs, thanks.

  13. Hi Michelle!!
    Linda is away on vacation at the mo, but she is going to get back to you as soon as she returns!!! She is worth the wait!
    Jacqueline

  14. Michelle says:

    -J

    Thanks! I’ll anxiously await your comments.

    ~Michelle

  15. Michelle says:

    Hello!
    Just read the post on pets & ADHD. We are an ADHD family. Mom, Dad, 4 kids ages 9, 7, 4, 2. Are there any breeds of dogs out there that are tolerant of ADHD owners in the training process? We would prefer getting a puppy. We tried getting one 2 years ago. We did our research to find a good “family dog” and we got an adorable Black Mouth Cur puppy. Although he was fed & watered every day…. the training, & exercise was a bit sporadic (since that’s how an ADHD family lives), and therefore, after 6 months, we had to sell him because he would bite our childrens’ friends.

    We want a puppy. We know they are work. But we cannot guarantee that training will happen daily….probably only when one of us gets hyperfocused. So, are there any breeds out there that turn out good on their own, and then any training that occurs is a bonus?

    Probably a stuffed puppy.

    Any ideas will be appreciated.

    • Hi Michelle!!
      Great question!! I am going to ask my friend Linda, who is an expert in the field of Pets and ADHD and we will get back to you.
      warmly
      Jacqueline

  16. While animals are a lot of work and a challenge, I’ve found them to be essential to my wellbeing. I have a small hobby farm and have spent the last days weeping with my goats over the recent loss of my mother. It’s harder for me to grieve with people but the animals just draw it out of me. They also give structure to my day. I’ve bee blogging for months about the importance of what I’ve learned from my animals.

    • Jacqueline Sinfield says:

      Hi Debbie
      Very sorry to hear about the loss of your mum. Animals are so pure, innocent and loving and they never judge you which is why I think its easy for us to be at ease with them. I am glad your goats have been so therapeutic and helpful for you during your grieving process.
      I don’t have any experience with goats, but when I am sad my cat just ‘knows’ and she gives me extra attention. Non animals lovers don’t really get it, but I think animals are very emotional smart!

      Thinking of you during this sad time.
      hugs
      Jacqueline

      ps I am going to go and visit your blog now 🙂

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