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Dogs, Emotional Problems and Medication Compliance

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

I recently came across an article in Psychiatric Services (January 2003), a Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, in which one Psychiatrist and two Psychologists discussed psychiatric service dogs. In fact, the article was in the form of a letter to the editor and the topic was the use of dogs to help people with Bipolar Disorder remembers to take their medication. They discussed the case of a woman with bipolar disorder who would forget her medication resulting in her mood quickly cycling into mania. She happened to buy a puppy that quickly and unexpectedly learned to sense a change in her mood when she started to enter a manic state. The puppy would repeatedly nudge her arm, causing her to become very angry. However, the dog persisted and she realized that her increasing irritability had to do with her becoming manic. Ever since, if she forgets to take her medications she is acutely aware of the fact that the dog is alerting her to a change in her psychiatric condition and she takes her medication. As a result, her overall mental state dramatically improved.

I use a dog in my practice with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety. One of the remarkable things I have observed is how my dog will go to and snuggle up with a patient who is both depressed and tearful or who has become extremely anxious. The patient will then stroke the dog and, more often than not, regain a sense of well being. What I find even more remarkable is the ability of my psychiatric service dog to sense when the emotional climate in the office is about to change. The ability to sense changes is called Alerting, just as the dog in the case above was able to both sense and let her owner know that emotional state was changing.

Alert dogs are being used in medicine. For example, I know of people who are able to sense and alert to the fact that a diabetic’s sugar level is falling dangerously low. There have even been cases where a few very special dogs are able to alert to their master having a seizure. In all of these cases, the patient is able to take their medication to prevent a dangerous occurrence or call for help.

Returning to the article being sited above, the fact is that when dealing with psychiatric issues most people are much more willing to take a reminder from their dog, about taking their medication, than from another person, whether family, friend or therapist.

The article ends with the following prescription: "Get a dog."

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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