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Can Pets Help with ADHD?

By Guest Contributor: Pam Bennett

cats and dogs

For the last 42 years I have been a pet owner. Recently, my 19-year-old cat had to be put down, and for the first time since 1979, I am petless.

Mocha, a short-haired ornery bundle of joy, joined our family when my daughter adopted her from a farm in 2002, and she eventually came to live with me six years ago. Moa, as she was known, had personality plus, was verbal, lap-loving, and even won over my cat-averse parents! Pet ownership has been a massive part of my life, and I believe that pet ownership can help people with ADHD.

People with ADHD can struggle with time management, but a pet keeps you on a schedule. Your pet will certainly make sure you get up in the morning. For example, every morning Mocha would walk down the hallway, announcing the arrival of a new day, the need for freshwater, and a demand for breakfast.

As a pet owner, you will establish a routine with your pet. This routine can also help you plan and shape your entire day. Seven days a week, your pet needs food, water, playtime, and time with you…no matter what’s going on in any other part of your life.

As I write this, many of us are still struggling with the changes and challenges brought about by Covid-19. We might be home more, interacting only virtually with our co-workers, and unable to hang out with our friends.

Your pet needs you throughout the day. If you are working from home, your pet will provide a visual reminder to take care of them. If you find yourself in a state of hyperfocus during the day, you might need to set alarms to remind you to check on your pet. Did they tip over the water bowl? Are they out of food? Your dog might need to go outside again.

If you are at home on endless calls, your pet will find ways to remind you that they’re there. Your cat might walk across your keyboard, or make a special guest appearance, or add her voice to a conversation. Your dog might alert you to a potential intruder, or Amazon delivery, or come put his head on your lap for some ear scritches.

Evenings with your pets include more walks, attention, and food. Are you working too hard? Remember that your pet wants to spend some time with you. Your dog needs more walks and time outside. Your cat might want lap time, or time chasing that red laser, or both!

My Mocha loved lap time, and eventually she “trained” me to remember to have everything I was going to need before sitting down. Was I planning to read? Watch a show? Do a hobby? Talk on the phone? I learned not to sit down without my phone, water, book, remotes, and other materials within reach so I wouldn’t feel badly about disturbing her when I needed to get up.

Your pet is part of the family. You may find yourself planning vacations or outings that can include your pets. Camping, hiking, boating, kayaking, biking, running - a 5km anyone? These are all things you can enjoy with a dog or even your cat. Last summer I was hiking in the Michigan Upper Peninsula and ran into a group of people who were hiking and camping with their cat!

Another thing that ADHDers can struggle with is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). No matter your emotional state, your pet is not going to play mind games with you. When you come home from a rough day, or push away from that computer, that little furry friend is there to greet you.

Did your boss yell at you? Did your best friend shun you? Are you feeling hurt or unloved? Your pet is waiting to spend time with you on the best and worst of days. With a pet, you are never alone. Spending time with your pet can help you get rid of stress.

People are hardwired to need touch and pets fulfill that need. According to The Health and Mood-boosting Benefit of Pets, published by HelpGuide in September 2020, pet owners are healthier than their non-pet owner counterparts. They have lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and live longer than people without pets. Playing with pets can elevate serotonin and dopamine levels. Interestingly, pet owners over age 65 make 40 percent fewer visits to doctors than people without pets.

Dogs are being trained to provide emotional support for people with ADHD. Jessica McCabe of How to ADHD (YouTube) is currently working with her dog, Chloe, to teach her to fetch her medication so she won’t forget to take them. Jessica was interviewed about this by Dr. Ned Hallowell on his Distraction podcast on 3/26/2021,Train Your Dog to Support Your ADHD with Jessica McCabe and Landmark College.

If you have ADHD and are considering pet ownership, I recommend it. A pet can help you on many levels including time management, exercise, planning, and stress reduction.

As for me, I don’t expect to be without a pet very long. I can never replace Mocha but I have room in my heart (and lap) for another pet.

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