The Emotional Benefits of Owning a Pet
It is now a common belief that pets are beneficial for their owners (Friedmann & Thomas, 1985). They found pets to be important in the family system, useful for therapy and promotion of health roles. This could be anything ranging from social interaction when dog walking or the physiological effects of pets on stressful situations. This blog examines how humans form attachment to their pets and the benefits of pet ownership on emotions and health.
Family pets, especially cats and dogs, provide factors of attachment that facilitate emotional and social well-being throughout a person’s life (Sable, 1995). Pets can bring comfort and decrease feelings of loneliness during stressful life situations, for example, divorce and bereavement. These findings have an effect on social services by highlighting the need to protect and maintain this bond for specific populations. This includes the elderly in nursing homes, retirement communities and individuals going through difficult times.
There is much evidence to suggest that humans form strong attachments with their pets, as they can provide a sense of security and caregiving (Archer, 1997). The mechanisms, however, that allow pets to elicit caregiving behaviours, were criticised. These mechanisms can cause pet owners to achieve more satisfaction from their pet relationships than human relationships, due to pets having an unconditional love that does not always occur with other human beings.
Children also form attachments to their pets, as pets can provide opportunities to develop emotions such as love and affection (Blue, 1986). The study found that these emotions, however, do not substitute for caring, interactive parent roles. Triebenbacher (1998) suggested that a pet can contribute to a child’s emotional wellbeing and this is due to children perceiving their pets as special friends, family members and emotional support.
Poresky (1990) believed that pets can aid a child’s social development of empathy, which is the ability to share the feelings of another. A child with a strong pet bond, had higher scores of empathy than children who had no pets. This view has been criticised by Daly and Morton (2003), as they found children with pets do not show higher empathy. Additionally, no difference was found in empathy between pet owners and non-pet owners and no link between empathy and attachment to pets, a factor which previous research had covered, for example Blue (1986).
Despite the conflicting views, later research by Daly and Morton (2006) further investigated the connection between children-animal empathy. Children who preferred and owned both cats and dogs showed more empathy, and a high attachment to their pet also produced higher empathy. Further research into human-animal and empathy relationship needs to be investigated in order to find a clearer explanation of the processes involved.
Another benefit of pet ownership is the wide range of improvements in health, including lower blood pressure, increased levels of serotonin and dopamine (creating a relaxed feeling) and reduced muscle tension and heart rate (Brodie & Biley, 1999). This can be utilised in the health service by nurses taking an active role in pet-visiting schemes to aid therapy. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) used animals alongside other standard therapies (Khan & Farrag, 2000) and it has been shown to improve physical, social and emotional functioning. Cole, Gawlinski, Steers & Kotlerman (2007) found that AAT using dogs was successful in being able to reduce anxiety in patients that were hospitalised with advanced heart failure.
However, Khan & Farrag (2000) investigated the animal health hazards of ATT, which included animal bites and allergies. This suggests that specific guidelines such as suitability of patients and animal infection control standards need to be in place before the therapy begins. A general criticism of pet ownership is that it is not beneficial for every individual and if you are not a ’pet person’ then owning a pet will not provide any therapeutic benefits or significantly improve your life (Helpguide.org, 2013).
In conclusion, research has shown that pet ownership can create a variety of emotions including, attachment, caregiving and affection. Further research showed a clear benefit of a child-pet relationship in a child’s development of empathy, however, earlier research had failed to identify the link of empathy and the pet bond. Pet ownership has benefits for the health industry by using therapies, such as AAT, although more regulations need to be put into place to rule out health risks. Overall, pet ownership has a positive impact on emotions and health.
Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets? Evolution and Human Behaviour, 18(4), 237-359.
Blue, G. F. (1986). The value of pets in children’s lives. Childhood Education, 63(2), 85-90.
Brodie, S. J., & Biley, F. C. (1999). An exploration of the potential benefits of pet-facilitated therapy. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 8(4), 329-337.
Cole, K.M., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., & Kotlerman, J. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart failure. American Journal of Critical Care, 16(6), 575-585.
Daly, B., & Morton, L.L. (2003). Children with pets do not show higher empathy: a challenge to current views. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interaction of People and Animals, 16(4), 298-314.
Daly, B., & Morton, L.L. (2006). An investigation of human–animal interactions and empathy as related to pet preference, ownership, attachment, and attitudes in children. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interaction of People and Animals, 19(2), 113-127.
Friedmann. E., & Thomas, S. (1985). Health benefits of pets for families. Marriage and Family Review, 8(3-4), 191-203.
Khan, M. A., & Farrag, N. (2000). Animal-assisted activity and infection control implications in a healthcare setting. Journal of Hospital Infection, 46(1), 4-11.
Poresky, R. H. (1990). The young children’s empathy measure: reliability, validity and effects of companion animal bonding. Psychological Reports, 66(3), 931-936.
Sable, P. (1995). Pets, attachment, and well-being across the life cycle. Social Work, 40(3), 334-341.
The therapeutic benefits of pets. (2013). Helpguide.org. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.helpguide.org/life/pets.htm
Triebenbacher, S. L. (1998). Pets as transitional objects: their role in children’s emotional development. Psychological Reports, 82(1), 191-200.