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.
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.
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.
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.