Q: I’m interested in having a dog but wonder if I should get one because of my ADHD symptoms. Would a pet be a good idea for me, even though I have ADHD?
—Woman in Maryland
A: The short answer is yes! Adults and children affected by ADHD can greatly benefit from pet ownership, helping to develop their social skills, independence, and overall happiness.
Having a dog, cat or other companion animal can help you, or your child, learn how to schedule, manage time, and plan ahead. A common symptom of ADHD is difficulty staying organized, planning ahead, and meeting deadlines. Pets require care, attention and a schedule for feeding, walking, cleaning, and even playtime. Creating and putting in place a consistent routine with a pet can create better habits and skills for maintaining and following a schedule throughout the day – helping you or your child to practice daily life responsibilities like homework assignments and work deadlines.
Living with ADHD can be stressful for adults and children. When you spend as little as 20-30 minutes with your pet there are chemical changes in the body that reduce stress. This includes increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, making you feel less anxious and creating a calmer feeling. Playing your pet provides an outlet for relaxing and a way to burn off energy while increasing your attention and engagement.
Caring for your pet can also help build a sense of self-esteem, particularly for young children, and improve how adults with ADHD view themselves. You develop a deep and personal relationship when you care for your pet. From that positive and caring relationship, you can develop and increase your social interactions with the people around you, be motivated to function better in daily life and undertake new challenges. Exercising with your pet, studies have shown, can decrease feelings of loneliness and depression. Having a pet, like a dog, can help you to meet new friends from among other pet lovers, perhaps during a walk in the park.
In fact, Polish researcher Elzbieta Budzinska-Wrzesien and her colleagues found when you have a close relationship with your pet, who displays unconditional affection and has no sense of judgment about you, the relationship raises your own sense of well-being and sense of self-esteem. This pet-owner relationship can create healthy and important habits, relieve stress, and increase social interactions.
You want to go into pet ownership with your eyes wide open when it comes to ADHD. Talk with the folks at your local animal rescue shelter or a trusted veterinarian about adopting a pet, the needs of your new pet and how a pet can fit into your life. Take your ADHD symptoms and any co-occurring conditions into consideration when thinking about adopting a pet and which type of companion animal; pet ownership can increase stress for some people dealing with co-occurring conditions. For some people, adopting an adult pet that is already trained may be a better choice. A veterinarian or trained animal technician can also help you consider pets that require minimal care but can bring companionship to your life.
Owning a pet is not a decision to be made lightly, but can be one of the most supportive and loving decision you ever make. To learn more about the benefits of pet ownership, visit Health Benefits of Pets.