Studies show that animals can reduce tension and improve mood. Along with treatment, pets can help some people with mild to moderate depression feel better. If you’re depressed, here’s a rundown of how pets could help.
- Uncomplicated love. Are your relationships with family and loved ones complicated and frayed? A pet can be a great antidote. “With a pet, you can just feel,” says Teri Wright, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Santa Ana, Calif. “You don’t have to worry about hurting your pet’s feelings or getting advice you don’t want.”
- Responsibility. You might not think you can take care of a pet right now. Taking care of yourself may seem hard enough. But experts say that adding a little responsibility can help. It adds a new and positive focus to your life. “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” Cook says. It will remind you that you are capable — that you can do more than you might think.
- Activity. Are you barely getting off the couch these days? You need to get more physical activity. Pets can help. “If you have a dog, that dog needs to be walked,” Cook says. A little extra physical activity is good for your physical and mental health.
- Routine. Having a daily schedule helps people with depression. An animal’s natural routine — waking you in the morning, demanding food or walks — can help you stay on track.
- Companionship. Depression can isolate you. It can make you pull back from your friends and loved ones. If you have a pet, you’re never alone. That can really make a difference.
- Social interaction. Having a pet can gently push you to get more social contact. You might chat with others while walking your dog at the park or waiting at the vet. Pets are natural icebreakers, and other pet owners love to talk about their animals.
- Touch. Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Pets offer something similar. There’s something naturally soothing about petting a cat on your lap. Studies have shown that petting a dog can lower your heart rate, too.
- Better health. Research has found that owning a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs.
The Drawbacks of Getting a Pet for Depression
Pets aren’t for everyone with depression, Wright says. If you’re depressed, think carefully before getting a pet. If you have a loved one with depression, don’t assume that surprising him or her with a kitten will help. It could make things worse. Here are four things to ask yourself before getting a pet to help ease depression.
- Are you comfortable with animals? A lot of people helped by pets had them as children. They’re used to having an animal as a source of comfort. If you’ve never had a pet, it may be less likely to help now.
- Will having a pet make you worry? Dwelling on death is a common sign of depression. If getting a pet just means that you’ll worry constantly about it dying, that won’t help, Wright says.
- Is your depression too intense right now? “Taking care of a pet is not unlike taking care of a small child,” Wright says. “If your depression is so severe that you can’t take care of an animal, it’s not a good idea to get one.”
- Can you afford a pet? Caring for pets can be expensive. The ASPCA estimates that in the first year, a cat can cost more than $1,000 and a dog up to almost $1,850.
- While you may not want to snuggle with a fish or a turtle, caring for them could also improve your mood. It creates responsibility and a new focus. Studies have shown that watching fish can lower your pulse and ease muscle tension too.
10 Tips For Welcoming Home Your Newly-Adopted Dog
- Be prepared: Before you adopt your dog, know which training method you’re going to use (we love clicker training and other positive-reinforcement techniques) and read up on it so you can employ the philosophy from day one. Research dog care and nutrition in advance as well, and decide which food you’ll feed your dog and how many times a day he’ll eat (usually once or twice).The more prepared you are, the smoother your new family member’s transition will be.
- Be flexible: While it’s good to be prepared, remember that your new dog is a living being with a mind of his own, and he may well express preferences that run counter to your plans. If the sleeping arrangements you’ve laid out just don’t work for him, you may have to shuffle things around a bit. If the sound of the clicker scares him to death, a different training method may be in order. Maintain a good sense of humor and try not to get exasperated. The transition period won’t last forever. Take it slow: get your routine set that works for both of you, introduce new people, pets and places after you’ve had a chance to bond with your pet over the first week or two. Soon you and your new buddy will have a well-established routine.
- Shop for the basics: You’ll need a leash, collar, a bed, food and water dishes and, of course, food! It’s a good idea to have these items in place even before you bring your new dog home. One other thing to buy right away: an ID tag! Put the tag on your dog immediately—we can’t stress that enough. By the way, you’ll notice that a crate isn’t on the list of things to buy in advance. If you plan on crate-training, it’s best to take your dog with you when you shop for the crate so you can find the correct size.
- Make sure all family members are on board: Set some ground rules and make sure everyone in the family agrees to follow and enforce them. For instance, if you don’t want your new pup on the couch, all the training in the world won’t help if your daughter lets him sit there with her when you’re not home. Also, if caring for your dog will be a family effort, be certain everyone understands and agrees to their particular roles and responsibilities.
- Help your new pal adjust: Over the first few days to few weeks, your new dog will be going through an adjustment period. You may notice some symptoms of anxiety, including a lack of appetite and suppressed bowel habits. Your dog may even hide under or behind furniture or stay in one particular room for a few days. Don’t be alarmed—this is absolutely normal behavior. By showing your new friend patience and understanding, you’ll be helping him through a tough, scary time and showing him how wonderful his new home really is!
- Establish a schedule of feeding and walking and be consistent: Try to walk him and feed him at the same times each day, and signal the walking and feeding times with the same key words every time.For instance, right before you feed him, you might say, “Dinner time!” A reliable routine is an important tool in successfully integrating your new dog into your family and helping him feel secure.
- Set aside time to bond: Spend some quiet time with your dog each day, petting him gently and speaking in a soothing voice. Touch is an incredibly powerful method of communication, one that is almost impossible to misunderstand. Show your dog he’s safe and loved, and your relationship will get off to a beautiful start.
- Everyone needs time alone: Your dog is no exception! Give him time every day to be alone and to explore his new surroundings. Observe from a distance to make sure he’s safe, but not close enough to intrude on his “me” time.
- Slowly introduce him to new things and people: We know you’re dying to show your amazing new family member to all of your other family and friends, but take it slowly! A good rule of thumb is to introduce no more than one new person to your dog each day. Also, save the first trip to the dog park or any other busy environment for a few weeks later, to avoid overwhelming and confusing him.
- Get him a tune-up: Schedule a first visit to your dog’s new veterinarian during the first week (or immediately upon adoption if you have other pets at home or suspect your new pup might be ill). Bring any and all medical and vaccine records supplied by the shelter or rescue from which you adopted your dog. Many veterinarians will even provide a free first checkup to folks who adopt a pet! This first visit is a great time to get clues about your dog’s personality and past history, so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Also, have your dog microchipped right away (if he’s not already), so you can be reunited if (gasp!) you ever get separated. True love is hard to replace!
Bringing a New Cat Home: How to Prevent Problems from Day One
Congratulations, you’ve decided to adopt a cat!
To ease integration into your home, take into consideration where your cat came from. Was she staying in a cage, in a room, or in a foster home? Were there other cats living with her or was she alone? Was the environment noisy or quiet? How often did she eat and where did she sleep?
Changing all of these factors in her environment all at once can be very stressful. In order to integrate your new cat into your house and life as smoothly as possible, you must be able to recognize the signs of stress while changing her living situation slowly over time. With this method, you are initially maintaining her previous routine, while changing to your routine over time.
First, prepare to welcome your cat home by making sure you have these items on hand:
- Food and water bowls
- Food (To ease the transition, stick with the food your cat is used to eating at first. Then, if necessary, gradually switch to a higher-quality food.)
- Collar with ID tag
- Cat bed
- Cat toys
- Cat brush
- Cat litter box and litter (Again, stick with the type the cat is used to.)
- Scratching post or strips
Recognizing signs of stress
Your new cat will likely be stressed initially. Signs of stress can include decreased appetite, decreased grooming, hiding, lack of interest in attention or affection, and sleeping in unusual locations. A stressed cat may be more quiet than usual, which can be difficult to notice. Very stressed cats are more likely to behave aggressively or fearfully.
If you’ve adopted a cat from a shelter, this is most likely your cat’s third “home” in a fairly short time period. Even though your house is probably much more comfortable than the shelter where she came from, change is stressful. Watch for signs of stress, and if you see them, make certain that they lessen over time. If her stress is not slowly decreasing every day, you should seek the help of a behaviorist or your veterinarian.
Your cat’s environment
Many cats are fearful when introduced to their new home; being moved from a small enclosure to an apartment or house is a big change. Your home also has different smells and noises than the shelter and the home where your cat lived before. Initially, confine your new cat to one room. Your bedroom or the living room often works well for this. Make sure that you provide your new cat with food, water, and a litter box (see below), and that you regularly spend time in this room with her, so that she is not alone.
Provide her with multiple hiding places. A cardboard box with holes cut in both sides (so she can go in and out each side) and a blanket placed in the bottom can be a great hiding place. Be certain to provide her with hiding places on the ground, as well as up high. When she is in her hiding place, do not disturb her. Her hiding places should be her special places, where she can have privacy if desired.
Place a scratching post or cat tree in her room. Place her scent on the cat tree by gently stroking her cheeks with a towel, and then rubbing the scratching post with the towel. This will transfer her scent onto the scratching post, thereby increasing the likelihood that she will use it.
Let your cat adjust to the room, and to you. Do not force her to stay near you if you wish to pet her. Instead, coax her to you by playing with an interactive toy or staying near her food bowl while she is eating. Once she realizes that this stranger (you) provides all the same good things that her previous owner did (and maybe even more!), she will warm quickly to you and accept your attention.
After three days, or once your cat is comfortably walking around and living in this room, expand her access to the entire house. For some cats, it may take several weeks before they are comfortable in their room and can be allowed access to the whole house.
Cats eat less when they are stressed, and sometimes stop eating altogether. It is extremely important to make sure that your cat is eating regularly (and adequate amounts) once you have brought him home. If possible, buy the same type of food that the shelter used. If he is not eating, try mixing a little bit of a tastier food, such as canned cat food or baby food, into his meal.
After two days, or once he is eating regularly, slowly change him over to the diet that you would like to feed him (if different from what he got at the shelter). Make sure you feed your cat high-quality food. On the first and second days, feed him 25 percent of your diet and 75 percent of the shelter’s diet, mixed together. On the third and fourth days, give him 50 percent of each. On the fifth and sixth days, switch to 75 percent of your diet and 25 percent of the shelter’s diet. On the seventh day, feed him 100 percent of your preferred diet. Changing your cat’s diet too rapidly can cause upset to his system (decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhea). If this happens, call your veterinarian.
Decide whether you wish to feed your cat once daily, twice daily or free choice (which means leaving dry food out at all times). Many cats who are fed free choice do not properly control their food intake and tend to be overweight, which predisposes them to health problems. For most cats, twice-daily feeding is ideal. You can also put some of your cat’s daily ration into a food-dispensing toy. Food-dispensing toys are a fun way for your cat to “hunt” for his food, and are a great way to enrich his life. Do not start using a food-dispensing toy until your cat has completely settled into your home, after about two to three weeks.
Provide your cat with an uncovered, clean litter box. Covered litter boxes can trap odors inside the box, which is nice for you, but not for your cat. Cats are often quite fastidious; they are sensitive to the smell of urine and feces, as well as deodorizers. Reducing the smell inside and around the litter box can be very important for them. Scoop out the litter box once daily, and empty it completely to clean it every two weeks. When you clean the litter box, use a mild soap, not strong-smelling detergents or ammonia.
The most common reason that cats are brought to shelters is litter box problems. Following the above recommendations can make the difference between a cat who is house-trained and a cat who isn’t. Remember that if you do not like the smell of the litter box, your cat probably doesn’t either; keep it clean and you’ll have a happy cat.
There are many different toys that your cat might like to play with. Cats like novelty, so buy several different types of toys for her and try them out. Play with the toys with your cat; do not set them out and expect her to play with them on her own. If she is not interested in them for the first few days, give her time, and try different toys. Do not play with your cat with your hands. Using your hands as a toy teaches your cat that it is okay to bite or scratch you.
Indoors vs. outdoors
One of the big decisions cat owners must make is whether to allow their cat outside. There are many risks outdoors that can shorten your cat’s life span. He could be hit by a car, poisoned, attacked by a dog, or infected with an incurable virus. However, many cats really enjoy being outdoors and miss the stimulation of the natural world if they are kept inside all the time.
There are several different ways that you can allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors without the risk. You can install perches on windowsills around the house so that your cat can sit at the window, watch the outdoors, and enjoy the sunlight. With patience, you can teach your cat to walk with a harness or leash, and then you can take him outdoors for walks.