Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Addiction

two cats sitting on the pavement

The interaction between humans and animals has been proven to provide many health benefits for both parties. Animals can bring so much joy and love to people, alleviating stress and offering us emotional support. While owning a pet comes with plenty of responsibility, the therapy and happiness they provide outweigh the burden. For those who have struggled with substance abuse, utilizing different therapy approaches can be important for the success of a treatment program. As a Palm Beach rehab that offers all kinds of therapy programs, we wanted to share the various benefits of animal-assisted therapy for addiction and how it could help you in your recovery.  

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?  

When a person begins their recovery from addiction in an outpatient or residential treatment program, they’ll likely experience different forms of therapy, including group therapy, behavioral therapy, 12-step meetings, and even holistic approaches like meditation and yoga. Others may have the opportunity to be involved in animal therapy programs during their treatment.  

Animal-assisted therapy is an alternative or complementary form of therapy that includes the use of animals in treatment. The goal of animal therapy for addiction is to improve the individual’s social, emotional, and cognitive functioning while instilling important skills they can use during recovery.  

Animal therapy is used for addressing many issues and disorders, including helping people with mental health disorders, people with addictions, inmates, and people with illnesses like cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s. Interacting with animals reduces feelings of aggression, irritability, depression, and anxiety, making the patient feel calmer and more content.   

One new study from the University of Saskatchewan shows that a 10-minute visit from a therapy dog can help relieve patients’ pain in the emergency room. The research found that ER patients who were visited by a therapy dog reported less pain than those who weren’t.1 Now, there are numerous addiction treatment centers – including our luxury rehab in Florida – that offer animal-assisted therapy to further support their patients during recovery.  

Types of Animal-Assisted Therapy 

Animal-assisted therapy can include bringing your pet to a treatment facility to make you feel more comfortable during rehab. Spending time with animals during an addiction treatment program is a therapy approach that helps individuals relieve stress in an unfamiliar setting.  

There are also various types of animal therapy that include different animals, such as: 

  • Equine-Assisted Therapy: Equine refers to horses and members of the horse family. Also known as horse therapy, equine therapy is the practice of utilizing horses in behavioral therapy. Applications include equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), which focuses on the client’s emotional health, and equine-assisted learning (EAL), which focuses on teaching clients how to manage behavioral and emotional responses. Equine therapy includes therapeutic riding, grooming, feeding, and cleaning up after the animals to promote relaxation, responsibility, and improved emotional and behavioral control.  
  • Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: Some rehab centers near the ocean offer patients the opportunity to swim with dolphins as part of their treatment programs. Dolphins are known for their intelligence, curiosity, and willingness to interact with people, which makes them fairly popular for animal-assisted therapy. Also known as dolphin therapy, this approach is designed to remove feelings of shame and isolation that come with addiction and promote relaxation. 
  • Canine-Assisted Therapy: Probably the most popular type of animal-assisted therapy, canine or dog therapy has been used to help people with mental illnesses, disabilities, and to help reform incarcerated individuals. Petting and socializing with dogs can increase endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin, all of which are chemicals linked to happiness and pleasure. As you can imagine, this effect can be a great benefit for those recovering from something as challenging as addiction. 

Other animals that may be used as part of pet therapy for addiction include cats, birds, and rabbits. 

What Are the Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Addiction? 

When combined with different residential and outpatient programs, animal-assisted therapy can help a person with a substance use disorder successfully overcome the disease. Increased mood levels will help motivate someone to stay on track and get through their entire treatment program 

There are many benefits of animal therapy to consider, including: 

  • Enhanced self-esteem 
  • Improved communication skills 
  • Increased emotional awareness and regulation 
  • Increased responsibility and accountability  
  • Increased trust and trustworthiness 
  • Lowered stress and anxiety levels  
  • Reduced aggression 
  • Reduced blood pressure 
  • Reduced depression, shame, and sense of isolation 
  • Reduced loneliness  

As you can see, it’s advantageous to ask about animal-assisted therapy if you’re looking into an animal therapy center for addiction. 

Finding Animal-Assisted Therapy Near Me 

If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, there is hope for change. Our luxury drug and alcohol rehab in South Florida is proud to provide animal-assisted therapy for our patients. Patients will be able to improve their overall mental health while overcoming addiction. 

In addition to an array of psychotherapy programs, our facility also offers medically supervised detox and various levels of care to ensure we can help all those who walk through our doors. For more information about our services, call Seaside Palm Beach today at 561-677-9374 or send us your contact information, and we’ll reach out to you as soon as possible. 



  1. PLOS One – Outcomes of a controlled trial with visiting therapy dog teams on pain in adults in an emergency department 


Related Reading:  

Does Anxiety Go Away?  

What Is High Functioning Anxiety? | Symptoms and Treatment 

Share this post