The Psychology of Pets

September 21, 2017

I like to call my dog, Murray, a “foster fail”. He and his brother were supposed to be temporary, until I helped find them their forever home. His brother was adopted within a week, but Murray needed a little surgery before he was able to be adopted as well.  A week later I was in love with the little guy and couldn’t give him up.  Three years later, he’s still my best friend.

 

 

Pets have been part of the human experience for a long time; even ancient Egyptians had domesticated cats and dogs! Other parts of human history have shown worship of domesticated animals. Dogs were used as guards for kings, fish were kept in tubs before fish bowls, and when across sea travels began, birds, cats, even wolves started to become home-bound pets. Researchers and anthropologists believe that humans have always had a need to connect with animals on an emotional level. Today, it is estimated that there are 342 million dogs and 281 million cats being kept as pets worldwide (note: pet being defined as either domestic companion or agricultural). Having a pet is as domestic as a Sunday trip to the crowded grocery store.

 

Having a pet has been shown to have a plethora of benefits. Humans with pets have been shown to:

  • Feel less lonely

  • Be healthier

  • Have lesser risk of allergies and asthma

  • Have lower blood pressure

  • Regulate emotions better

  • Have a greater sense of self-esteem

  • Deal with stress easier, and

  • Relate to others better

 

Humans are not the only ones that benefit from these relationships. Dogs, especially, have a desire to connect with their human owner that helps them feel satisfied and cared for as well. A real life example just happened to me last week. I was really ill, and had to get to the emergency room, stat. Murray, being the best dog ever, noticed I was putting shoes on to the leave the house and went into his kennel (what a good boy!), but he was shaking, which was abnormal for him. After quite a few hours in the ER, my mother and I came home and he was still shaking. He didn’t immediately want to go out to the bathroom like our usual routine; rather, he came straight to me to make sure I was okay. He was as scared as I was for the next couple of days and wouldn’t leave my side.

 

This isn’t unusual. For example: Some nursing homes have cats that are known to comfort those who are likely to lose their lives soon; there are dogs that can sniff cancer before medical measures can detect it; assistance dogs are not just trained to help those who have blindness or deafness, but can actually sense when an epileptic seizure is coming on. These animals do all this and more as they have a desire to help their owner.

 

Studies have shown:

  • People with Alzheimer’s have less anxiety symptoms if they have a pet at home

  • Those with a life-threatening condition are less likely to have depression if they have a pet

  • Those who have had a heart attack live longer if they have a pet at home

  • Pets help us fare better during life transitions (e.g., birth of a child, marriage, divorce, sending a child to college, etc.)

Pets have been known to make special connections with those with disabilities, mental health struggles, in prison, and even those who experience homelessness. We know animals are beneficial with this type of assistance, but we sometimes forget that pets impact our busy, everyday lives too. Pets offer us unconditional love and psychological support. Sometimes we just need someone there when we had a bad day without giving us advice. This type of affection is critical to the human experience.

 

Hug your dog or cat today and thank them for being there.

 

If you want some of these amazing benefits and more—ADOPT, don’t shop!

 

 

Resources:

 

Antonacopoulos, N. D., & Pychyl, T. A. (2014). An examination of the possible benefits for well-being arising from the social interactions that occur while dog walking. Society & Animals: Journal Of Human-Animal Studies, 22(5), 459-480. doi:10.1163/15685306-12341338

 

Ault, A. (2016, September 28). Ask Smithsonian: When Did People Start Keeping Pets? Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-when-did-people-start-keeping-pets-180960616/

 

Batson, A. (2008). Global Companion Animal Ownership and Trade: Project Summary. WSPA.  Retrieved from http://www.wspa-international.org

 

Davis, J.L. (2004). 5 ways pets can improve your health. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/health-benefits-of-pets#1

 

Gern, J. (2004).Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 113(2). 307-314.

 

Hosey, G., & Melfi, V. (2014). Human-animal interactions, relationships and bonds: A review and analysis of the literature. International Journal Of Comparative Psychology, 27(1), 117-142.

 

Kellert, S. R. (1993). Introduction. In S. R. Kellert & E. O. Wilson (Eds.), The biophilia hypothesis. (pp. 20-27). Washington DC: Island Press.

 

McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (2011). Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 101(6), 1239-1252. doi:10.1037/a0024506

 

Sable, P. (2013). The pet connection: An attachment perspective. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41(1), 93-99. doi:10.1007/s10615-012-0405-2

 

Utz, R. L. (2014). Walking the dog: The effect of pet ownership on human health and health behaviors. Social Indicators Research, 116(2), 327-339. doi:10.1007/s11205-013-0299-6

 

Walsh, F. (2009). Human-animal bonds II: The role of pets in family systems and family therapy. Family Process, 48(4), 481-499. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2009.01297.x

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