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Furry Friends Can Help Treat Untreatable Depression: Study

Aug 10, 2018 08:22 PM EDT
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Dogs are man's best friend through sunny walks as well as darker days. A new study revealed that getting pets could help in providing relief to patients with the treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.
(Photo : Sven Lachmann | Pixabay)

Depression is becoming an increasingly big problem in the United States with rates surging by an alarming 33 percent since 2013.

What's even more alarming is that some severe types of depression have been found resistant to treatment. In the hopes of helping patients, health experts have been looking for other treatment options.

Now, new research shows that when conventional methods of relief do not work, there is a chance that animals could.

Study Authors Recommend Pets To Treatment-Resistant Patients

In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers reveal that pets can help ease the symptoms of patients diagnosed with treatment-resistant major depressive disorders.

The study included 33 formerly non-pet owners who agreed with the doctors' suggestion to get an animal, IFLScience reports. Of them, 18 brought a dog home, seven got two dogs, and seven got one cat. All were part of 80 patients who had not been responding to regular therapy sessions and medication for a period of 9 to 15 months.

From the 47 who declined to get a pet, 33 were selected to serve as the control group. All patients continued with conventional treatment for 12 weeks including therapy sessions and anti-depression medication.

New Pet Owners Show Significant Improvement

The researchers used the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression and Global Assessment of Functioning Scale to track the patients' progress. It took eight to 12 weeks for the significant change to emerge between the two groups.

The 33 individuals who followed the recommendation to get a pet have all shown a significant improvement in their symptoms and social functioning. More than one-third of them even dropped out of the criteria for the disorder.

Meanwhile, none of the patients in the control group showed a significant change in their scores.

"One of the reasons that could explain our results is that pets compel to counteract one of the main symptoms of depression, anhedonia," one of the authors explains.

Anhedonia is known as the inability to find pleasure from typically enjoyable activities such as exercise, other hobbies, or social interactions. Owning pets also force people into social interactions, new activities, and venturing outdoors.

Of course, health experts advise not to rely solely on an animal companion. In the study, owning of pets was accompanied with conventional treatment as well.

One of the limitations of the study is that the experiment was not random. The authors point out, the benefits will only be seen in patients who appreciate domestic animals. Ample time and money to adequately provide for pets are also necessary.

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