The relationship between men and domesticated animals was built on the principle of mutual gain. However, this relationship has evolved into a more sentimental bond, as urbanization took over farm-life. Today they are more like our friends, with whom we share our homes.
In fact, this evolved relationship has broken the historical win-win equilibrium, to the advantage of our pets. For example, our dogs do not have to protect us anymore, but we have a new obligation to take them outside at least once a day. Likewise, pet owners have to make proper arrangements for their pets, if they were to leave the town for more than 2 nights.
Yet, we don’t give up owning a pet, despite all the difficulties and responsibilities. On the contrary, more and more people choose to have one, in order to cope with increased loneliness due to modern life-style. This choice has definite benefits to our mental and, sometimes, physical health.
Psychology Is In favour of ownIng a pet
Although, research about the psychological benefits of pet ownership mainly focusses on dog ownership, we also have some studies about cats and other pets. It has been shown that dog owners are have doing better, when it comes to qualities like self-esteem, social skills, responsibility and happiness. Moreover, they are even enjoying higher levels of psyhical conditions and overall health (1). Meanwhile, experts argue that dogs and other pets help reducing depressive symptoms seen in cancer patients, old people and veterans. In fact, some innovative therapists use dogs to establish communication with patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is common in veterans (2).
Having a pet in the house has also been shown to have positive effects in child development. There are some studies, concluding that the children, who have been brought up in a house with pets, were more capable of emphaty and cooperation, while they were more self-less and prosocial (3),(4). Owning a pet also contributes to the development of responsibility in children.
Pets also Improve our physIcal health, mostly
Individuals and families, who are reluctant about having a pet around, are mostly worried about hygene and health aspects. Science thinks otherwise. During 1980’s, it was commonly accepted that pet ownership was beneficial against development of allergies. Recent studies can not confirm this hypothesis as strongly. Nevertheless, it is even more hard to argue that pet ownership is harmful to physical health, according to the literature. On the other hand, some experts argue that pet owners might overlook personal health problems, in order to avoid being seperated from thier pets (5).
Why can’t they lIve longer?
Probably the biggest trouble with pet ownership is the inevitable loss of our beloved friends. Unfortunately, most of the species we choose as pets have much shorter lives than us. It is very likely that pet owners experience a emotional suffering, which is very close to they would feel when they loose someone from their family. We attach special importance to this sad aspect of pet ownership, as our children would be prone to this trauma, particularly if they had not experienced someone’s death before. They would have more difficulty in dealing with the loss of a loved one and might present more severe reaction to that. Therefore, it is very important to prepare them to the eventual death of their pets and support them to cope with it.
As a result, pets are an inseperable part of their owners life and they present an emotional support. However, if you are thinking of owning a pet for the first time, you have to carefully consider all the responsibilities beforehand
(1) Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership.(link)
(2) How dogs can help veterans overcome PTSD. Smithsonian Magazine: Science&Nature. (link)
(3) Pet Ownership, Type of Pet andSocio-Emotional Development of School Children. (link)
(4) Differential Effects of Pet Presence and Pet-Bonding on YoungChildren. (link)
(5) Pet ownership and human health: a brief review of evidence and issues. (link)
(This is the translated and edited version of my article in Turkish, published in Terapist Blog. The Blog belongs to my wife, who is a Psychiatrist MD, and it is a part of her start-up counselling application.)