Yes, pets help with OCD. I’m taking my lead from both common sense and an excellent story on the mental help.net website.
Benefits of domestic cats and dogs generally
It’s been well discussed on the Internet: the benefits of living with a companion cat or dog. The unconditional love they bring, the acceptance, the fact that they slow you down and divert your attention from things that might be worrying you are all factors which point to the fact that companion animals are highly beneficial in terms of mental health.
Benefits with respect to OCD
Janet Singer on the mental help.net website describes her son’s excruciating trials with OCD. She says that Dan suffered from severe OCD to the point where he could not function normally. He could hardly get off the couch as his anxiety levels were so high.
Janet lives with two cats, Smokey and Ricky. They obviously liked being around Dan and would spend time on his lap, purring and generally interacting with him. This gave him temporary relief. It distracted him from his obsessions and from time to time made him smile, which was a rare occurrence according to his mother. I sense that it is the temporary relief element of being around cats which is so beneficial. It helps to limit the levels of anxiety and bring OCD under control. That’s my understanding of the benefits of a pet under the circumstances.
Causes of OCD
My research indicates that we are not sure of the causes of OCD. Janet, above, writes about her son’s anxiety. It is my belief that anxiety is one of the causes of OCD. I think that’s common sense. In case you’re wondering what OCD means, it refers to obsessive-compulsive disorder and entails doing something repeatedly such as checking that the front door is locked when you leave and checking it again and again. From a layperson’s point of view it seems to be about worry and anxiety. It appears to be caused by a person losing control of their lives or feeling out of control and therefore they constantly do something over and over again as a way of checking that what you’ve done has happened and therefore are in control of it. OCD comes from a feeling that one is unable to control one’s environment in my view. This is where a domestic cat or dog can help by providing relief from the underlying anxiety. Also companion animal caregiving by an OCD sufferer is beneficial as they have to think of the welfare of others.
In my experience, interacting with my cat, one of the great advantages is that he slows me down. He actually stops me doing what I’m doing which is valuable. Modern life tends to wind people up especially if you have a certain inherited character which predisposes you to that mental state. It’s helpful to stop and reflect on what you’re doing which is where sitting quietly with a domestic cat on your lap really helps.
Returning quickly to Janet’s son Dan who had OCD very badly, he moved into his own apartment and fostered a cat. The cat suffered from seizures and rather than return the cat to the animal shelter, Dan decided to look after him. I believe that was a fantastically clever move because Dan had to think externally and help another creature rather than internalise his problems. He became a caretaker rather than being the object of caregiving by somebody else. He took responsibility for the welfare of his companion foster cat. I would argue that that would be very beneficial to him.