Animal-assisted activities to promote healing have become increasingly popular in recent years. It is used to help treat a number of different mental health conditions, and some people have begun to use it to aid in the recovery process for substance use disorders as well.

Regular interaction with animals may provide numerous benefits for some people. These benefits include lowered blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, reduced stress, and increased physical activity. Spending time with animals may also have a positive effect on a person’s mental health.

Animal-assisted activities are not used as a standalone treatment for addiction. Instead, they are used in combination with other forms of treatment and may maximize the overall results of treatment and increase a person’s motivation to stay in treatment.

How Do Animal-Assisted Activities Work?

When used in the treatment of substance use disorders, animal-assisted activities often involve including a trained animal in individual and group sessions. During the sessions, individuals are able to interact with trained animals. Patients must agree to participate in animal-assisted activities and not every patient qualifies.

Before patients begin interacting with the animal, education will be provided regarding the specific type of animal as well as the best way to approach the animal. For example, the animal’s body language and behaviors will be explained so the patient knows what to expect. Additionally, patients will be taught which parts of the animal can be touched and which parts should be avoided.

Common animals that participate in animal-assisted activity programs may include:

  • horses
  • dogs
  • cats
  • pigs
  • birds
  • rabbits
  • llamas


Potential Benefits Of Animal-Assisted Programs for Addiction

Incorporating animal-assisted activities for substance abuse treatment may have a number of benefits for some people when used in combination with evidence-based therapies.

Animal-assisted activities may help reduce a person’s anxiety surrounding treatment. Many people struggle with the thought of long-term sobriety and may experience anxiety during treatment as a result. The incorporation of animal activities into a treatment program may help ease a person’s tension and promote a person’s willingness to participate in treatment.

Additionally, animal-assisted activities may support addiction treatment by providing the opportunity to use touch to help reduce distress and anxiety. Staff members are generally unable to physically touch patients, but physical touch has shown to provide reassurance and support, especially in a treatment environment. Being able to physically touch animals may help ease anxiety and promote feelings of closeness and safety.

Animal-assisted activities may provide support in other areas of recovery as well. For some people, this form of treatment may be shown to boost confidence and improve a person’s overall mood during treatment. This may increase the likelihood of a patient successfully completing a treatment program.

Are Animal-Assisted Activities Right for You?

Animal-assisted activities may be an effective part of treatment for a wide variety of mental health conditions and substance use disorders when combined with evidence-based modalities, but it is not suited for everyone.

People who should not participate in animal-assisted activities include:

  • individuals with past trauma related to animals
  • people with a history of abusing animals
  • individuals who are afraid of animals
  • people who dislike animals or who have no desire to work with them
  • patients who have allergies to animals
  • individuals with religious beliefs related to animals that would prevent them from participating

Speaking with a staff member beforehand can help determine if animal-assisted activities are right for you. This service is only part of a comprehensive approach to recovery from addiction.

Animal-Assisted Programs in Rehab

Some people can benefit from animal-assisted activities as part of their treatment plan. To learn more about animal-assisted activities for addiction treatment, contact a Vertava Health admissions specialist today.