Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond

Mimi Medeiros

Pet is a term of endearment that reflects the steadfast bond between human beings and companion animals. These companions provide unconditional love and support and add endless amounts of joy to our lives. Pets can enhance both the physical and emotional health of the people surrounding them. 

The countless positive benefits from interacting with animals on human health is referred to as zooeyia. Pets can strengthen feelings of security, self-worth, and happiness while simultaneously reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. For instance, pets can have positive long-term impacts on children. Children with pets demonstrate enhanced self-esteem, empathy, and greater participation in social activities. Pets allow children to develop self-confidence and a strong sense of community. The elderly can also benefit from living with pets. Pets are an important source of support for the elderly members of society that are housebound and unable to socialize in the community. 

Service animals can offer emotional and practical support to people with mental or physical impairments. Some of these impairments include anxiety, diabetes, depression, epilepsy, and the list continues on. These exceptional companions are allowed virtually anywhere including airports and popular restaurants. The most well-known service animals are guide dogs, which assist people who have visual impairments. Some people are surprised to learn that dogs are not the only service animals available. Miniature horses, boa constrictors, parrots, potbelly pigs, ferrets, and capuchin monkeys can all be service animals. The human-animal bond is invaluable in the lives of people with impairments. 

Companion animals can change human behavior patterns and aid in treatment plans. Psychologists and social workers often recognize the significance of family pets and include them in therapy. Interacting with pets can stimulate the release of oxytocin which induces a calming response. The act of stroking one’s pet can lower blood pressure, serum triglyceride, and cholesterol. The presence of a pet can have a positive effect on its owner’s cardiovascular reactivity to stress. Animal-assisted therapy can help children with behavioral issues, and also the elderly with dementia and depression. Therapy animals accompany their owners to volunteer in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Therapy animals and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people of all ages.

Many health risk factors can be positively affected by owning pets, including physical inactivity, and obesity. Obesity increases the risk of developing health conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Pets can encourage daily activities such as eating, personal hygiene, and initiating exercise. Studies show that households with dogs are more physically active than those without pets. Animals radiate positivity and add enjoyment to everyday mundane activities such as taking out the trash. Walking one’s dog, for example, displays the positive relationship and excellent care between a pet and owner. Thus, dogs provide a social support system for regular exercise and reduce the risk of obesity. 

Pets can also be catalysts for harm reduction. Owners can be motivated to quit smoking in order to protect their pets from second-hand smoke. Cats and dogs are susceptible to various types of cancers that result from inhaling second-hand smoke. This behavior change is present in the homeless populations as well. Homeless pet owners will stop consuming drugs or alcohol or alter their choices so that they can take care of their pets. Homeless pet owners will also refrain from criminal activity to avoid incarceration and being taken away from their pets. 

Many people who struggle with mental illness feel alone in the world or that no one understands their problems. Studies show that dogs know when their owners are in pain, and some studies suggest that dogs are capable of empathy. Dogs can mimic facial expressions which makes owners feel as if their dog is intently listening and understands their pain. Pets can also help to stop suicidal thoughts and actions by giving suicidal individuals something positive to focus on. Often people dealing with severe psychological pain can become trapped in a cycle of negativity. The responsibility of caring for a pet can bring a person out of that negative cycle and force them to focus on the present rather than the impending future. In addition, the human-animal bond is nearly unbreakable and may make an owner think twice about leaving their precious companion animal. There truly is no end to the positive effects that a loving companion animal can provide. 

This complex idea that the overall health of humans, animals, and the environment are interconnected is termed One Health. Physicians can uncover significant information when asking about a patient’s pet. Veterinarians can work with their patients to facilitate further collaboration with physicians to help physicians see the positive and negative effects of pets on social determinants of health. Furthermore, physicians and veterinarians can collaborate to enhance patient care by focusing on the human-animal bond. 

Sources: American Kennel Club, Hodgson scientific articles, US Service Animals