September 29, 2022
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Blues Qs is an advice column covering all things clinical depression, written by Bezzy Depression community guide Sam Dylan Finch. Diagnosed with clinical depression over a decade ago, Sam has seen it all — from medication mishaps to grippy sock “staycations.” He’s here to help you navigate your own depression journey with a little humor and a lot of heart.
Few things have given my life more meaning than my cats, Pancake and Cannoli. While Cannoli passed away a few months ago, the time that we shared together made my life immeasurably better. Both my cats have provided connection, companionship, and love throughout my adult life. I don’t think I would’ve survived my depression without them.
…just the same, ask me about the time when I tried to bring a new puppy home, and you’ll hear a very different story.
My cats were terrified and angry. My partner and I barely slept. The demands of a puppy — playing, walking, feeding, training, and keeping him out of trouble — were far too much for me to handle, even with the support of loved ones and a trainer.
I had assumed that with enough dedication, I could successfully bring a dog into my life. I was laughably wrong and went on to experience something called the “puppy blues” — a form of situational depression that happens while adjusting to a new puppy (not dissimilar from the “baby blues” that new parents experience when bringing their baby home!).
Both of these examples highlight something very important: When it comes to getting a pet and having depression, it’s less about whether or not you “should” get a pet, and more about ensuring you get the right fit.
There’s a lot to consider, and everyone’s situation will be different. As an example, how much energy do you have to take your dog for a walk? Some people find a dog in need of a walk to be motivating, while others (like myself) collapse inward at the thought of going outside when depressed.
Some people need their animals to be more independent and not in need of constant stimulation. Others thrive when their companion is higher energy, as it encourages them to push through the depressive tendency to isolate and shut down.
What I discovered about myself is that I need my animals to be a happy medium: They should be affectionate, energetic, and connected… but not in constant need of my support and attention. I’m also not especially passionate about training animals, so it’s best if I stick to adult critters who have some training under their belts already.
To prepare you for all possibilities, I’m going to propose a few questions to ask yourself as you weigh your options.
Of course, the tricky thing is, we don’t always know these things about ourselves until we’re thrown into the metaphorical waters and try to swim. Like the situation with my puppy, I didn’t know that our needs weren’t aligned until I was crying over his crate, begging him to stop howling all night. (Yikes.)
This is why foster-to-adopt situations (where you “test drive” having an animal) can be a powerful alternative if you’re unsure of your capacity. Many rescue organizations offer this kind of transition, so if you’re unsure even after reflecting, reach out and see what’s possible for you!
The bottom line? People with depression can make great pet parents. You’re more likely to be successful, of course, if you find a pet that is a good fit for your needs and capabilities.
Every day, Pancake bops me with his paw to wake me up. And as annoying as it is sometimes to get a paw to the face, he gets me out of bed when nothing else can. He gives me a sense of purpose and a source of unconditional love. I am truly the luckiest person to have him in my life.
The question of “is it a bad time to get a pet” is the wrong question, in my opinion. There’s never a perfect time for any life decision. When I got Pancake, I was a broke grad student with treatment-resistant depression. Yet, when he came into my life, he broke through the clouds and gave me a reason to get up every day.
If your mental health might benefit from having a pet, it’s actually the best time to consider getting one. You deserve the kind of support and love that comes from companionship. Depression doesn’t make you less worthy of love, and depression doesn’t make you less capable of giving love. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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Medically reviewed on September 29, 2022
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