What makes the bond between pet and human so special?
Anyone who has ever loved their pet does not need a scientist to tell them that a special bond can exist between humans and animals. The connection between people and their pets is a unique relationship that brings so much love, happiness and fun to our lives.
The human-animal bond has existed through the ages
Human-animal bonds are ancient. The first archaeological evidence of a pet (a dog’s remains found buried next to 2 humans in Germany) dates back thousands of years. Historians believe that the human-animal bond probably began as a working relationship, where animals were used for hunting, farming, security and so on. But even then the emotional ties were strong. Animals are so beneficial to our health and emotional well-being, and there is even evidence that we as the human race may not have survived without animals. Nowadays, many people simply have a pet for the emotional connection, even if the animal serves no other practical “purpose”. But the psychological and physical benefits are so clear, that it’s not surprising that there are now more and more service animals (especially dogs) for people with disabilities, physical and mental illnesses and victims of trauma.
How does this special connection work?
Psychologists believe that the relationship between humans and pets is a bidirectional attachment bond, which is similar to a typical human caretaker/infant relationship. No wonder people call their pets their fur babies! Some examples of these behaviours are that a pet will seek out its owner as a means of coping with stress, and the absence of the caretaker can trigger separation anxiety. A dog will also explore new objects more freely in their owner’s presence as they feel safe. We know that pets such as dogs and horses are capable of assessing humans’ emotional states, and are more familiar with ones they know that ones they don’t. However, studies have shown that shelter dogs can even benefit from interacting with complete strangers. Their overall stress levels are reduced, which essentially shows their species’ instinct to want to form an attachment with a human, and also the positive health effects for the dog.
Some of the most affectionate animals that bond well with humans are pets like dogs, cats and bunnies. But other animals like guinea pigs, horses, cockatoos and even rats are also known to show affection and connect with humans.
How the bond benefits humans as well
It is easy to see the human-animal bond as a one-way street. Pets need their owners to meet their physical and emotional needs, but humans at the same time are also positively affected by their companion animals. Many people experience highly beneficial mental and physical consequences from interacting with their pet.
- Reduced stress – Petting an animal has been shown to reduce stress in humans, resulting in lower blood pressure, decreased stress levels, and increased exercise when for example walking your dog or riding your horse.
- Increased healing and independence – Service and therapeutic animals provide invaluable help to their handlers, with daily tasks, emotional and mental support. Animals can also be a vital part of the healing process for people who have experienced abuse or trauma, including war veterans.
- Happier mood – Stroking a friendly animal increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, leading to a boost in happiness and relaxation.
- More physical activity – Caring for a pet requires some degree of physical activity, and owning a pet that needs daily walks or play sessions can encourage more exercise and less couch-potato behaviour.
- Improved Immunity – Children who grow up with pets in the home have been shown to develop fewer allergies and are less likely to develop asthma than those without pets.
- Healthy mental development – Children are also known to benefit all round from having a pet in terms of their emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioural development.
- Social connections – Pets provide opportunities for interaction with friends and neighbours, especially for the elderly or lonely people who may have limited social activities.
- Emotional support – Pets offer unconditional emotional support and love, regardless of their owner’s financial status, appearance, or possessions.
Grieving the loss
Because of this deep bond between humans and pets, it’s very understandable that the loss of a pet causes intense feelings of grief for the owner, and that pets also suffer emotionally when they lose their owner. As the saying goes: “Grief is the price we pay for love” but it is always worth it.
At EarthPet we understand all about loving and losing a pet and how emotional this time can be. Needing to make practical decisions during this emotional time is not what one wants to focus on, which is why we have created the Pet Farewell Plan, a way in which we try to make the process somewhat easier when the time comes to say goodbye. For more information: https://care.earthpet.co.za/