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What is the Human-Animal Bond?

If you are here on this website, chances are that you love animals – but can you explain why? It can be difficult to understand why we have such an affinity towards animals, and why we can feel so close and bond with them throughout our lives. Science has shown us that there are definitive bonds that can occur between humans and animals. Dr. Kirk explains more about the human-animal bond, and why it is so important to both humans and animals.

Human-Animal Bond: My Personal Experience

I thought that I should preface this article with my own personal experience with the human-animal bond.

As a pet lover my entire life and then as a veterinarian in my professional adult life, I have seen the impact of animals on the human spirit.

Not only have I seen it in other’s, but I have experienced a bond with animals many times in my personal life as well.

On top of seeing this bond in real life, I also teach about the human-animal bond, also known to some in the veterinary community and research fields as ‘zooeya‘, to my veterinary students in all of my veterinary classes that I teach.

I feel that realization of this bond is so important in the field of veterinary medicine, that it is taught at the very beginning of all of my classes.

So long story short- I obviously believe in and believe of the human-animal bond.

What is the Human-Animal Bond?

The American Veterinary Medical Association, also known as the AVMA, defines the Human-Animal Bond as:

The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors  essential to the health and wellbeing of both. This includes, among other things, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. The veterinarian’s role in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potentials of this relationship between people and animals.

https://www.avma.org/one-health/human-animal-bond

And not only does this large organization that supports many veterinarians here in the U.S. thoroughly define this bond, but it also recognizes three attributes about this human-animal bond:

The AVMA recognizes: (1) the existence of the human-animal bond and its importance to client and community health, (2) that the human-animal bond has existed for thousands of years, and (3) that the human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.

https://www.avma.org/one-health/human-animal-bond

This bond tends to happen early in life, many times as children. It can also occur very quickly between a human and an animal, or it can take a while, as trusts builds.

can coronavirus affect dogs COVID-19 sleepy fawn pug in bed with girl

Pets and Physical Wellness:

It is hard to seperate mental and physical wellness completely because there are so many ties between the two.

So it wouldn’t be right to not highlight some of the many physical aspects in which pet’s have been known (and research proves) to help improve.

Some of the more commonly known ways that animals help our physical wellness include:

  • Decreased blood pressure [source]: With decreased stress likely comes decreased blood pressure! [source]
  • Better cardiac health: Bonds with animals can lead better blood flow and a decrease in blocked arteries with lowered cholesterol levels [source]
  • Decreased childhood allergy development: You read that right! Pets can have such an effect that they can influence allergy development in children [source].
  • Decreased risk of obesity: Animals can increase your feeling of having more energy. Pets can also get you up off your couch and moving – your dog may need to be walked or needs you to get some fresh air and play fetch with them.
  • Increased Survival Rates: Some people with certain medical conditions with pets, show higher survival rates [source]

Impact of Animals on Mental Health:

  1. Animals can help with depression. No matter what age you are, research shows that animals can help with depression [source] [source] [source]
  2. Animals can help with anxiety. [source] In fact, we have animals roaming around in all of my classes. [source] The majority of my vet students do better on assessments with animals in their environment.
  3. Animals can help decrease stress. Research has shown that bonding with an animal can actually increase a natural hormone in our body that can trigger a calming effect, called oxytocin. [source] [source]

Why Is The Human Animal Bond Important?

Bonding with another being is important to our human nature.

According to Psychology Today,

      We live for human connection. We greatly desire relationships because they increase our confidence and self-esteem. They make us feel important, worthy, and good enough. We are motivated by those powerful feelings to develop social skills so that we can meet people and develop friendships.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-main-ingredient/201101/craving-connection

Bonding can give us a sense of importance, a sense of responsibility, a sense of companionship and community, and a sense of assurance.

We all have needs and one of those needs is feeling like we matter to someone.

Sometimes that ‘someone‘ may be an animal.

What Types of Animals Can Bond in This Human-Animal Bond?

There are so many different types of animals that a human can bond with. In fact, any type of animal can be that animal!

Anything from a dog or cat curled up at the end of your bed, to a police dog or police horse, to a friendly gecko, sugar glider, snake, or cute little gerbil, could be your next animal bond.

Because I get asked a lot about therapy and support animals and this human-animal bond, I thought that I would take a second to discuss the difference between the two.

Take note, that a human can bond to either a therapy animal and a support or assistance animal.

A therapy animal has many relationships with people – all the people they come in contact with. As of the published date of this article, these animals are not allowed in public establishments with “no pets” signs.

Emotional support or assistance animals are working with the specific person on the other side of their leash. Currently, these animals can go into public spaces that are “no dogs” areas and on airplanes.

Importance of Animal Bonds During Quarantine:

We all know how hard this year has been with the current health crisis, social distancing, and social cancellations galore.

However, those of us lucky enough to be quarantined at home with a pet, know that ours pets have been life-savers in multiple aspects.

Some reasons how our pets have helped us out through this pandemic include:

  • Combat social isolation: This can lead to loneliness if continued for long enough
  • Decreased loneliness: Humans crave a sense of meaning and connection
  • Social support. I know I have started to talk to my own dogs when I am by myself. They have become my social support!
  • Increased sense of purpose. I wake up every day and know that I need to keep my animals alive, cared for, and entertained everyday – even while in quarantine.
  • Facilitated human-to-human connections and increased sense of community. Dog lovers unite!?! Am I right? Even if we are not all together face-to-face, you can still connect and bond with other humans over the love of your pets or animals in general. If you haven’t found this yet, search online for virtual meetups for pet lovers like yourself.
  • Improvement in physical fitness: Bored animals inside during the pandemic may mean more walks and play times with you outside!

Summary:

Scientific research has proven that there are definitive bonds that can occur between humans and animals.

The human-animal bond is real and is so important to both humans and animals in the eyes of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Now go hug your pet.

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