One of the great pleasures of my 40-year career in veterinary medicine has been to witness the wonderful mystery of the human-animal bond. From the time we decided to invite animals into our lives and homes, we humans have attached our emotions to our furry companions, and they, in turn, attach their emotions right back to us. This heartfelt connection with our pets creates a bond that has both physical and psychological implications for both parties.
Pets provide so much emotion and affection, as we do the same for them, it is easy to see how this relationship adds to the wellbeing of all parties.
Dogs and cats hold special places in this connection, as they usually inhabit our most intimate living spaces. We bring our pets into our living rooms, dens, kitchens, bedrooms and indeed, our beds. Dog and cat owners spend a great deal of their day with their pets. We walk, play with, groom, feed and train our pets. They take up a lot of the bandwidth of our minds as we think and talk about how enamored of them we are. Many of our conversations revolve around our relationships with our pets. The bond this creates affects almost every aspect of our lives and the lives of our animal companions. Emotions that we and our pets feel surrounding this bond affects the wellbeing of both parties involved.
Medical studies have shown that a relationship with a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce heart disease and lengthen life expectancy. Pets have a positive effect on mental health stability. When a person is recovering from clinical depression, adopting a cat or dog can alleviate stress and bring companionship to an otherwise lonely process. The mere act of walking our dogs daily is of great benefit in numerous ways.
Dogs and cats are social animals and although they may express their need for companionship and belonging in different ways, both species thrive in the presence of a strong human bond. A pet’s psychological wellbeing depends to a large degree on the strength and health of the bond it has built with its owner. Psychological health so often translates into physical health; so, the way we nourish and develop our mutual bond affects the wellness of our pets.
How can we be the best owners and bond-builders with our animal companions?
Invest the time. It is obvious that no relationship can flourish without an investment of time and attention. We adopt a kitten or puppy for the kids, but we must brace ourselves for a great deal of our own time spent with our new family member. Nurturing, training, socializing and bonding take time.
Exercise. A big part of time spent with a dog or cat is making sure they get enough exercise in the form of leash-walking, play and obedience training.
Training. Nothing bonds an owner and pet like obedience work. Support can be found for obedience training through local training clubs and independent trainers. Also, your veterinarian will be able to recommend reliable books and online resources. Obedience training enriches the bond you have with your pet by providing the rules, boundaries and limitations that bring security and confidence for both you and your pet.
Rhythm, routine and predictability. Pets will bond best and benefit most when the owner they are bonding with provides a stable, predictable environment. A rhythm to the day means meals are at a set time, exercise and rest times are predictable. Companionship is consistent, but alone time is also allowed and encouraged.
Veterinarians see dogs and cats with anxiety disorders every day of practice. Many of these cases are a result of an unhealthy human-animal bond. Healthy bonding starts very early in life and is cemented through the first three years of life. Without this foundational bonding and the security it brings, behavior disorders such as poor potty training, separation anxiety, and even aggression can result.
In the best case scenario, the love, joy and serenity that a pet brings to a household is underpinned by a deep, rich bond between pet and owner. This emotional connection has enormous mind and body benefits for both parties. Pets provide so much emotion and affection, as we do the same for them, it is easy to see how this relationship adds to the wellbeing of all involved.