Woman playing with small dog smiling

Furry friends are fun and can alleviate anxieties but, they come with great responsibilities

Combatting the feeling of isolation, anxiety, and depression with a pet can be very beneficial for some. But do the benefits outweigh the responsibilities? Michael Desena, clinical therapist at the Behavioral Medicine Center, proposes conversations to make sure you are ready to care for a pet on your mental health journey.

Emotional support animals (ESA) are not service animals. ESAs are pets that provide relief and support to mitigate mental health symptoms. They do not require formal training, and any animal who provides support and comfort to people with or without professional diagnoses can be considered ESAs.

Desena says pets provide companionship, can help you meet new people, and even increase your physical activity.

“These all sound great in theory, but it’s important to check in with the patient first,” Desena says. “Are they brushing their teeth and cleaning up? Most importantly, are they taking care of themselves?”

How can the added responsibility help one yet hurt another?

Markers of depression include isolation and the reduction of finding pleasure in things that used to be gratifying. When one’s motivation lowers, an emotional support dog may encourage them to go outside for a walk, a cat to be brushed, or a bunny to be fed.

Someone who has a negative perspective about themselves and is not taking proper care of their new pet may cause negative or harmful thoughts.

“Feeling like you’re failing yourself and also your pet can really have an adverse effect on someone,” Desena says.

There are factors Desena asks all adult and pediatric patients to consider before moving forward with getting an ESA.

Are you getting to work/school on time every day?

A pet could possibly delay your schedule.

Will the pet have the space and resources to thrive?

Animals can be expensive and may cause a financial burden.

Are all members of the household OK with getting a pet?

Disagreements on the care for a pet can cause conflict and stress.

After these are addressed, Desena asks his patients to spend time with someone who has the type of animal they are interested in adopting.

He has seen patients thrive and create strong bonds with their new pets. He has also helped patients understand that the added responsibility may not have a positive effect on their lives at the time.

“These emotional support animals really can help people bridge the gap of putting themselves out in the world,” Desena says. “When we start to find companionship in an animal, they can really alleviate some of that anxiety related to being out in the world. It’s quite beautiful.”

Loma Linda University Behavioral Health offers an array of mental health services and treatments. To learn more or begin your journey with an expert, click here.