There are lots of research studies that support the value of including animals as part of a treatment plan for a wide range of health issues. But no studies have specifically looked at the experience of people who have borderline personality disorder and also own pets. Until now…

The journal Advances in Mental Health recently published results from a study conducted by researchers at the School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work based at Curtin University in Perth, Australia that investigated that question — can owning a pet have a positive impact on people who have BPD?

Researchers Maya Hayden-Evans, Ben Milbourn and Julie Nett interviewed eight adults with BPD who own pets to get an understanding of the impact their pets have on their emotional and social lives. Five major themes emerged from the interviews: Pets provided their owners with: meaning and purpose; enhanced positive emotional attachments; more positive social connections;  increased participation and engagement in meaningful activities and; therapeutic value.

If this makes you feel like running out to buy a pet, there are a couple of things you should first consider:

  • Owning a pet is usually a long term commitment. Many pets live for years and require daily attention. For example, dogs require a good deal of their owners’ time and effort. Owning a dog means walking, feeding and interacting several times a day for years.
  • Many smaller pets require less attention. For example, sprinkling a little food into a fish’s bowl a once a day and changing the water periodically.

If you’ve never owned a pet before, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s required by talking with people you know who have one kind of pet or another, cats, birds, fish, snakes, gerbils, etc. So if a owning a dog interests you, visit someone you know who has a dog. Or checkout a nearby dog park and watch how different types of dogs behave. You could also visit a shelter, nature center, animal sanctuary or pet shop (to browse, not buy).

Supplement your field research with online searches to learn more about different kinds of pets and what they require for a happy and healthy home life with you. One more thing- before you commit to ownership make sure there aren’t people in your home who are allergic to your choice of pet. If there are, you might consider an outdoor bird feeder you can watch from a window.

You should also accept that there will be disappointments along the way. You will more than likely outlive whichever pet you decide upon. Nothing will prevent the grief of losing a pet. But the joy you will get from the relationship will be stronger and last longer.

Finally, if you can’t decide if you should own a pet, or what sort of pet would be best for you, why not put together a  ‘pro’s and con’s’ decision chart to help you. There are several simple versions you can get online.

Hope this all helps you to make a decision that’s best for you— and your new friend.

Photo credit: The Recreational Club for Workers, Turin. Italy

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