OCD and Pets

SmokeyWhen my son Dan’s OCD was at its worst, his anxiety levels were sky-high and he could barely function. It would have been ludicrous for me to suggest he try yoga, or meditation, or any other stress reduction technique to help him feel better when, in fact, he could hardly get off the couch.

But he could pet our cats.

Our two cats (Smokey and Ricky), both so lovable with distinct personalities, helped Dan immensely during those dark days. Whether they sat on his lap, just curled up on the couch next to him, or purred so loudly they sounded like engines revving, they allowed him to relax and brought him momentary peace. Other times they would engage in various cat-like antics, inciting a rare, but oh so cherished laugh from our son.

They didn’t bombard him with questions, asking if he was okay, or if he was hungry, or what was wrong. They were just there with Dan, and for a short time, his focus was diverted from his obsessions and compulsions. Smokey and Ricky were able to care for Dan in a way the rest of our family could not. A new article in the April 15, 2013 issue of Time magazine called “The Mystery of Animal Grief,” explores how animals grieve. I found it fascinating, and no matter how you might interpret the various studies discussed in the article, I think it is hard to argue with the belief that animals do indeed form relationships, and are empathetic. What more does it take to comfort someone?

Certainly, there are many concrete examples of how pets can affect the lives of those with OCD. For example, if you have obsessions revolving around germs, I would think having to empty a litter box, or having your dog lick your face, would be quite an exposure.

When Dan moved into his own apartment last year, one of the first things he did was foster a cat from a shelter. He has always been an animal lover, and was looking for a furry friend to keep him company. As he knows, life is full of surprises, and come to find out, his new companion, Cody, has a host of medical problems, and needs to take medication to control her seizures. Instead of returning Cody to the animal shelter (something I very well might have done) he has embraced his role as caretaker. Whether we have OCD or not, I believe this experience of putting another’s needs ahead of our own is so worthwhile; focusing outward instead of inward can give us a different perspective.

So it works both ways. We take care of our pets, and our pets take care of us. They often force us to slow down our lives, make us laugh, and give us unconditional love. And for those who are suffering, they provide the much-needed comfort and serenity that can’t be found elsewhere.

I’d love to hear from those with OCD about how pets have affected your lives.

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24 Responses to OCD and Pets

  1. Jen E says:

    Great article. I can say if I never had pets in my life I don’t know where I would be. We have pet rats, we had bunnies in the past and now just several months my first cat. It’s been a huge exposure for me. When we first got her anytime I touched her or she brushed against me I had to wash up but now I don’t. Hairballs don’t bother me as much either or cleaning up after her. I love when she curls up on my lap. Bonding with her and her purring on my lap seems to be really calming. Now my rats keep me entertained. Pets are the best medicine!

  2. Janet, thank you so much for this post, even though it made me cry! I’m so glad that Dan had Smokey and Ricky to comfort him. You describe the beauty of their love in such a wonderful way. And what a giving and kind person Dan must be, to take care of Cody!

    My Waddles was my first cat. I took her in when my mother left her at the animal shelter (that’s a another story!). I was so afraid. I had a lot of contamination issues, and, more than anything else, I was petrified of the responsibility. To think of being responsible for another living being’s health and safety was overwhelming. But I loved Wa and I took the leap. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I loved taking care of her. It didn’t bother me to clean up after her or clean the litter box. It was part of loving her. And what she gave back in her loving presence can’t be measured.

    When she got old, in the last year of her life, she required a lot of medication, and she couldn’t always get to the litter box. But I almost never had an OCD episode revolving around cleaning up after her or giving her medicine. And if I did feel anxious, I forged ahead. Wa was more important. She was larger than my OCD. I can’t really explain it other than that way.

    Wa is gone, but I dream about her pretty often. In my dreams, I’m always checking to make sure she’s OK and can’t get out of the house. But the checking is OK in my dreams.

    • I know from reading your posts, as well as this comment, how much Waddles meant to you, Tina. I think you summed it up when you said she was larger than your OCD.I am so glad you had her in your life when you did, and know that you cherish her memory. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. kris says:

    Oh yeah Janet, pets have definite therapeutic power. I don’t think I could have surprised my husband more than when I told him we should get a dog. My son had broken his wrist in football and he was really sad so I asked him if there was anything I could do for him or get him. He said he always wanted a brother (not happening) or a dog. So I started searching for a dog. It was shock and awe when I brought her home..I think the children would have thought that having a dog would have made my OCD worse but it was the opposite. I just loved Zoe. I got used to some dog hair/shedding and even did “poop patrol” (pickup) out in the yard. She got me outside walking too which was really beneficial..basically when we got Zoe is when I really took a turn for the better.
    It is hard to describe, but sometimes I get stuck with a checking ritual, and there were a couple times when Zoe would come up when I was doing that, and plop her paw right on top of my foot. It would make me laugh..I always felt like she was saying, “I am here for you.” when she did that. She lived to be 14 which is pretty old for a Lab and when she died my husband and I sat next to her on a blanket on the floor and I whispered into her ear my thanks because I really believe that she saved me.

    • Thanks for sharing, Kris. Your comment is so touching, I am wiping the tears as I write. What a wonderful tribute your words are to Zoe and how lucky you both were to have each other. I agree with you…….I’m sure she was saying ” I am here for you,” when she put her paw on top of your foot.

  4. adhdocd says:

    I enjoyed your story, Janet, about your son obtaining comfort from the cats. I also enjoyed stories from the others who have OCD and pets. This is really nice to hear. I definitely would agree that pets do form bonds and are empathetic. 

    My father, as a sort of small hobby, bred Labradors so I was always exposed to dogs. They were, however, outdoor kennel dogs in the summer and stayed in the heated garage in the winter. They were not allowed in the house due to my mother’s allergies. 

    I have minor issues with germs but my biggest issue with pets is my extreme sensitivity to smells, the sound of them licking/grooming themselves, and feeling like I have fur on me or in my eyes. 

    We currently have 3 dogs (2 chihuahuas and a golden doodle), 2 of which have medical issues. We saved 1 chihuahua who wouldn’t even let us hold her for some time and now, 5yrs later is ok with the 2 of us and my sister in law only holding her. My sister in law is handicapped so we thought the dog was able to sense her struggles. This dog has severe separation anxiety with my spouse and began having seizures 2yrs ago. The seizures are not much of an issue anymore. 

    Our doodle has spinal dysraphism which is the same as spina bifida. She was going to be euthanized at our vet’s office at 6 weeks old (a breeder brought her in) and I asked if I could take her and try to give her a chance as she wasn’t in any pain. Well, she has done great and is turning 3 next week. She can’t do stairs or anything of that sort so it’s kind of funny to watch my spouse carry her at times (she’s 70lbs)! He also has to scrub her fairly often after she’s had a bowel movement because she has less tone back there and doesn’t always know when she’s actually finished having a bowel movement. My spouse has a pretty good system with all of this now and is used to it. Also, sometimes she will mess in the house if her tummy is upset so we have to be careful what we feed her.

    Therefore, when this happens, I usually have to leave the house for at least a day due to the lingering smell. I also cannot watch my spouse wash her back end because this is visually disturbing to me. 

    I always wanted to bond more with dogs but they never seemed to bond with me, likely because they sensed my irritabilities at times with them. 

    I ended up buying our second chihuahua from kijiji a year and a half ago. She was only a year old and fully trained and the owners were leaving the country. I must say, as she lay beside me right now while I write, we have a bond that I don’t even think I can describe. I don’t let her lick my face but I have learned slowly to allow her to lick my arms or my wet legs when I get out of the shower! She was just so persistent and gentle almost as though she knew the feeling and sound of the licking caused me great anxiety. 

    Dogs have tried this before which I could not tolerate; however, I developed an immediate bond with this dog and she was so patient with me. Now she sticks to me like glue, follows me everywhere, and won’t leave my side when my anxiety is peaking. She is so gentle and sweet that if I pet her while she is eating, she stops eating and will enjoy the petting instead (and for her, that’s a big deal because she is quite the little piggy!) 

    I look forward to seeing her every day after work and we play and cuddle all night. She’s a shorthair, so not much hair either. I never thought I would be at the pet store buying dog toys, bones, and sweaters, but I am! 

    The only real major problem I have is when she is not feeling well, I worry far too much and I end up thinking the worst and can spend silly amounts of time researching why she could be sick. My spouse is generally pretty good when I get like this and can redirect me without judgment. 

    Thank you once again for an interesting post. Writing about my dog actually relieved most of my anxieties from the day. 

    • Wow, you and your husband certainly do your share of animal caretaking; you are obviously very caring people. And your relationship with your chihuahua sounds incredible. Thanks for sharing!

  5. 71º & Sunny says:

    Oh, so true, Janet!! My kitty Anna has brought so much joy and peace and comfort into my life. She is definitely a contamination exposure for me, but the funny thing is that she is so cute, sweet, and cuddly, that I’m often able to just ignore the obsessions and hug and kiss her anyway. I just love her that much. Even though my OCD is much improved, she is still a great source of comfort. I’m so glad Dan had a couple of furry friends to help him along. What a blessing.

    • Yes, Sunny, it was a blessing, and I don’t even think we realized it at the time. Anna truly is a beautiful cat (saw her picture on your blog) and I hope she is feeling well.

  6. Janet, I nominated your blog in one of my posts:
    http://jackieleasommers.com/2013/04/11/blog-for-mental-health-2013/

    You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but I had to pay you props as one of my favorite bloggers for mental health! Thanks for all you do for OCD awareness!

  7. The Hook says:

    Pets have immeasurable therapeutic value, don’t they?

  8. Thanks for leaving the link to this on my blog. I really enjoyed reading it. You write very, very well. 🙂

  9. Natasha says:

    I am debating if I should get a cat for my 6 year old daughter since I have the urge to have everything spotless and clean. I get anxiety when crumbs get on the couch or the floor. On the other side I know my daughter fees lonely because we do not have family close by and she is my only child. I fostered a cat for 2 weeks and I loved her but I hated to clean the potty. It made me miserable and I decided to send her back. Do not judge me its stronger than me 😦

    • I don’t know if you have tried ERP therapy for your OCD (assuming you have OCD) but that would be a good start in fighting the disorder…..and then you could work your way up to getting a cat!

      • I doubt anyone will judge you here Natasha. Try not to feel badly. That only adds stress to your day and stress is not what you need. Be compassionate with yourself and you could do what i did and look for alternatives. Even a 6 year old can scoop a litter box with a pair of rubber gloves on. A teenager could come do it a few times a week or a babysitter if you have one for your daughter? Perhaps you could do a trade with someone in the neighbourhood where you will do a small chore that they hate for them and they will do potty duty for your cat. Those are a few ideas but I really believe you can eventually work your way to doing it yourself. In the meantime, why deprive yourself if that is something you really would like?
        I know this one from the inside. I have 2 dogs with one in training as my service dog. They poop. A lot. YUCK. Big ones too. They are not small dogs. My neighbour (the man) has an ill wife and he can’t get out much so I go stay with his wife for a few hours and he cleans up my yard. We are both happy. All people have something that holds them back. Diagnosed condition or not.

    • Great suggestions, Heather……..thanks!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I really want a dog, but I have OCD. Will it affect me any or make ocd worse? I just really want my own dog, but i need to answer this question. Can anyone help?

    • Each situation is unique, but it you really want a dog, perhaps this could be a motivating factor in helping you fight your OCD. I hope you have a therapist, or someone close to you, who can help you work through the pros and cons. Good luck!

  11. Wendy says:

    Hi one of my twin boys has ocd and we have become currently homeless we had to put our lovely cat in boarding my son has become worse since he’s gone not to mention what were going through now but puss gave him comfort and some how settled him ‘ I got told today we could have him if I get a medical certificate stating he’s my sons companion think thing I do think animals give a sense of comfort and love .

    • Hi Wendy, I am so sorry your family is going through such a difficult time. I hope that you can get that medical certificate so that your cat can be a part of your son’s life again. I wish you all the best.

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