Is there a reason why about 50% of American households today have a dog or a cat as a pet, aside from the fact that they are cute?
Of course there is. In fact, many people have more than one pet, particularly a dog or cat. These animals enrich our quality of life, provide companionship, reduce loneliness and, in general, keep us happier and healthier.
In study after study, pet owners scored higher in all measures of happiness, adjustment and good health compared to those without pets. In particular, the elderly who are pet owners fare much better in most areas than their peers without pets, including increased survival from coronary artery disease!
The notion that pets are good for people who live alone is known to be true, but pet owners fare better whether or not they live with other family members. So pets improve their owners’ lives under any circumstance.
What is it that makes relationships between humans and pets so important?
Humans have a need to be emotionally connected with other individuals in attachment bonds that get stronger with increased exposure. This is why people banded together since the beginning of time, and humans and pets have been living together for thousands of years.
Attachment to another human being provides a sense of inner well-being and emotional security for all of us, particularly at times of stress, when the comfort and reassurance provided by this bond reduces fears and makes anxieties easier to contain.
Pets in a lot of ways are like little children, who need someone to protect and look after them. As children they respond in ways that are cute and charming, reinforcing our need to care for them. Pets are our children who never grow up and leave us, as they continue to need our care and affection throughout their lives.
Human relationships with dogs and cats also contain elements of attachment, as we protect, nurture and love them and they provide us with acceptance, constant proximity, responsiveness and unconditional love. All this reduces psychological distress and increases our feelings of happiness.
While all this is true at any time in life, pets are particularly important at times of grief and sorrow, at times of transition and at times of loneliness caused by a major loss.
So, do you have a pet? If so, how do you feel about your relationship with it? Do you have stories to share about your experiences as a pet owner?
This is my pet, Mozart.