Pets and Addicts: The Good and The Bad

We all love our pets and having an addiction does not alter the basic human capacity to love and cherish our animals nor the ability to appreciate the loyalty and love our pets give to us. However, when addiction takes hold, its dominance alters the relationship between pets and their owners. Pets often suffer mental distress, neglect, and abuse. Dogs are especially susceptible, but cats and other pets also suffer.

When pets become part of a household they adjust to normal behaviors and assume a happy role. pets and addicts When a pet owner abuses drugs and alcohol the pet senses the shift in energy and is put on edge. Dogs, for example, are known to bark at their owners when they are drunk or high because their owner changes significantly. The smell of alcohol or drugs is seen as a sign of danger and the dog tenses up. Frequent exposure to the erratic behavior of addiction may cause a dog or a cat to become nervous, agitated, and untrusting of other people. A dog like this is highly likely to bite someone.

When a person is using drugs and alcohol to excess, they can forget responsibilities to provide shelter, food, water, walks, and playtime with pets. Addicts may have blackouts and forget their pets for days. They may leave doors or windows open so distressed pets may escape, endangering both the pets and neighbors. Addicts should do the responsible thing and find a different home for their pets while they get clean and sober (more about this later).

In excessive cases, addicts may even become aggressive and hurt their pets when under the influence. They may not even remember what they did. Imagine waking up from a blackout and discovering you have harmed or killed your cherished pet? Is that worth it? Another insidious abuse by drug addicts is causing injuries or inducing symptoms in their pets in order to gain access to drugs such as tramadol, benzos, or fentanyl prescribed by veterinarians. This is a growing problem with the greater regulation of opioid medications from human doctors.

There are some good sides to the story of pets and addicts. The love of a pet can sometimes be exploited by family or an interventionist to induce an addict to seek treatment. During recovery, the presence of a pet and the responsibility to take care of it provides a therapeutic effect and reinforces the structure addicts need to stay on course. Indeed, there are some programs that use animals as part of their treatment protocol.

On the other hand, some addicts use their pets as an excuse to avoid residential treatment they may need because they have no way to care for their pets when away. At Soul Sanctuary we are too small to allow owners to come to treatment with their pets. We do encourage pets to be brought to family sessions our clients have with their loved ones. If you want to come to treatment and need help finding accommodations for your pet our admissions staff will help. Our facility is in an area where almost everyone has pets and we’re surrounded by great vets, boarding facilities, and pet fosters. We understand that once you get on the road to recovery your relationship with your pet will be enhanced immensely and that will do you a lot of good as well.

If someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drugs, visit or call 800-772-1097 to learn more about our treatment programs.