We have known for a long time that pet ownership can have a positive effect on a person’s health and well-being. More and more research is being done to prove the benefits of animal companionship. This mutually beneficial relationship has been named the human-animal bond. Pets are considered family members, but also have an important job to provide physical and emotional interaction to us as humans. And to them we provide so much more than the essential food and water. Pets sleep in our beds, go to daycare, and even have birthday parties. You can easily see testimony to this bond in the pictures of pets being rescued from the recent natural disasters, the closest to home being Hurricane Harvey.
Having a pet encourages social interaction, which benefits mental health. A person with a pet is more likely to encounter situations that require talking and engaging with another person. Coming home to an animal companion can decrease feelings of loneliness or isolation. Pets help us to relax and are stress relievers. People with depression and anxiety find it easier to cope with a pet by their side. Therapy animals that visit hospitals or nursing homes are shown to give a boost to morale and patient health.
Physical wellness also improves with pet ownership. Chronic illness and high blood pressure are just some of the medical conditions that benefit from interaction with a pet. Having a pet contributes to a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that children who have dogs and/or cats have less chance of developing allergies and asthma. Some dogs are even trained to diagnose cancer, predict seizures, and alert owners to hypoglycemia. Research on cancer in pets can lead to new developments in the human field.
Your veterinarian plays an important role in the relationship with our canine and feline companions. It is our job to make recommendations to the pet owner for the pet’s health and wellbeing. We are advocates for preventive health. We recommend spay/neuter for the health benefits and to prevent pet overpopulation. Routine vaccinations and flea and heartworm prevention are needed to protect animals from diseases. Veterinarians also play a role in behavior consultations by ruling out any medical condition and leading owners to the training and resources the pet needs. Having conversations about quality of life is a difficult part of the job. When the time comes to say good-bye, euthanasia can relieve suffering for the patient and provide a peaceful ending for the owner. Veterinarians help preserve and enrich the human-animal bond.
As more research shows how pets have a positive impact on their owners, the pet population continues to rise. As good as it is for your health, both mentally and physically, to have a pet, keep in mind that having a pet is a big responsibility. Pets rely on us to take care of them, and that means a commitment of time and money. Before adopting or purchasing a pet, make sure you have the space and the ability to take care of an animal. In our profession, we often see pets that are abandoned or rehomed simply because a person did not do the research about the needs of that animal. If you are not ready for a pet, consider other options. Offer to walk a friend’s dog or volunteer with a rescue organization to better understand the obligations of a pet owner. A pet can be your best friend, but make sure it is the right time. And if you are considering adding a furry friend to your family, please consider adopting from the shelter or a rescue organization. These pets have never had a home and can’t wait to be the furry member of your family.
If you’d like more information on the human-animal bond, please visit the website for the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (https://habri.org).