The Keeping of Pets: The Human-animal Bond

By: Kristie Franks, M.S.

Historically, dogs are known to be the first domesticated animal. Their domestications took place somewhere around 14,000 years ago. All other species have been domesticated over the last 10,000 years. Initially, dogs were kept to protect their owners and the owners property, to help hunt and to help pull sleds as well as for companionship. Cats were kept for pest control. Other domesticated species were all used for food initially, though some of their roles have changed over time. Many small pocket pets or other small pet species have always been kept solely as pets. Through the years, we humans have developed a strong bond with our pets. Pets have become an essential part of our lives and are strictly companions only. So what is it about pets that drives us to keep them in our lives and home? What makes them so special?

One aspect that has been researched extensively is what is called the “human-animal bond”. Studies have looked at everything from “are people mentally ill if the bond with an animal?” to “animals are used as surrogate family”. Most psychologists and animal scientists firmly believe that the human-animal bond is very strong and very real.

Attractive Redheaded Girl and White Puppy Smiling Together

The bond between a person and their pet is rarely one sided. Pets also have a deep bond with their owners. Over thousands of years of selective breeding, we have created domesticated animals for traits that would enhance their dependency on humans. We bred for traits that modified their prey drive (need to hunt), traits that made them more docile, and traits that changed their need for socialization with their own species to the desire to spend time with people. Research studies have shown that dogs have the same chemical reaction within their body when they see their owners, as humans do when they see someone they love.

Humans also benefit from a positive relationship with their pets. Research has proven that interaction with pets can lower someone’s blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol level (cortisol is the stress hormone in our body) and can raise the level of serotonin (the happy hormone in our body). People really can have a deep emotional bond with their pets. It is obvious that their bond is truly love for their pet.

Today’s society has a fractured social system for most people. In years past, families would grow up near all their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Now we live in a mobile society, many people moving away from home at a relatively young age. Many people do not marry or have children until later in life as compared to generations past. This can lead to large gaps in our “normal” social structure, such as few family gatherings, living alone for extended periods of time, and lack of interaction with others because of work schedules or from living in unfamiliar surroundings. Our brains were hardwired to require social interaction and the lack of the normal structure can lead to loneliness, isolation and depression.

Pets help fill those needs of interaction, nurturing and companionship when family is difficult to visit. The pet is always happy to see you when you arrive home and makes home feel more welcoming and less empty. Pets can encourage us to be healthier by getting us up and moving and helping alleviate depression and anxiety. Pets are a positive addition to most all families. They provide unconditional love and companionship for nothing more than your time, care and affection. If you are alone and needing some companionship, think of adopting a pet to fill those needs! Pets are a wonderful and deserving of our love.

(References: AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association. (1998). Statement from the Committee on the Human-Animal Bond Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 212; Brackenridge, S., Zottarelli, Lisa K., Rider, Erin, & Carlsen-Landy, Bev. (2012). Dimensions of the human-animal bond and evacuation decisions among pet owners during Hurricane Ike. Anthrozoös, 25(2), 229-338; Cohen, S. P. (2002). Can pets function as family members? Western journal of nursing research, 24(6), 621-638; DeMello, Margo. (2012). Animals and Society: An introduction to Human-Animal Studies. New York: Columbia University Press.)