The Emotional, Physical and Mental Health Benefits Of Having A Pet Companion

The Emotional, Physical and Mental Health Benefits Of Having A Pet Companion

How could lawyer George Graham Vest be more wrong about it when he stated that dog’s man’s best friend”? As dogs, cats and all sorts of pets man ‘designed’ for himself and his comfort are not only our friends, as further detailed with several studies’ support.

The American Supreme Court hosted an unusual trial, in 1870, occasion with which the talented lawyer named George Graham Vest pleaded for man suffering from the loss of his deeply loved dog named Old Drum. The deposition was about a neighbor who killed Old Drum for trespassing, without him knowing that Old Drum was an important family member. It was then when Vest famously stated: “The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world – the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous – is his dog.”

Dogs and people began living together 15,000 years ago when dogs followed people’s migration throughout East Asia. The connection,  is not only a natural one, but also mutual, and this because both people and dogs are social beings. They both can thrive when alone, and both benefit mentally (and often physically) from strong social bonds, explained the specialists.

Of course there are numerous examples of such indestructible bonds, many of us have already encountered and experienced at least one, yet a memorable connection between one particular dog and his master is the one between Hachikō and his owner, professor Hidesaburō Ueno. Hachiko, an Akita Japanese dog is being still remembered for his love and abnegation shown to his owner by having waiting for him each day of his life in the Shibuya train station, even after his owner’s death. Although it’s dating almost one hundred years old, the story creates emotions still, moreover after the movie making.  

But what makes dog more than man’s best friend and a reliable family member?
And why are pets so important to us, so much that we often love them more than our own kind?

Evidence suggests that there are psychological, physical and social benefits in human-pet relationships, especially for cat owners and dog owners. Hirschman (1994) discovered that individuals decide to own animals as companions to satisfy their social needs. Pets can act as friends, exhibiting unconditional and nonjudgmental fondness for their owners (Hill, Gaines, & Wilson, 2008). 

Another study, Rynearson’s (1978), showed that humans and pets can be significant attachment figures for one another. The human-pet relationship can be simple and safe, with minimal risk (Nebbe, 2001). A pet can be accepting, openly affectionate, honest, loyal and consistent, which are all qualities that can satisfy a person’s basic need to be loved and feel self-worth (Nebbe, 2001). 

In the study of Winefield et alii (2008) and Quinn (2005) women reported higher attachment levels to pets than men. Vizek Vidoviæ et alii (1999) also found higher pet attachment levels in girls (based on a study on a population of primary school students from Zagreb).

Another study found that cats appear to be an additional source of emotional support, especially for those participants who are strongly attached to their animals (Stammbach & Turner, 1999). According to Melson (2003) many pet-owning children derive emotional support from their pet because of the lack of human social support.

Various hobbies are suitable for overcoming loneliness (Birsa, 1992), such as interacting with animals and taking care of them (Marinšek & Tušak, 2007). A conclusion for the bond created between humans and their pets can also be drawn from a research focused on the connection between relationships with animals and loneliness, research finding that attachment to pets may substantially lessen emotional distress (Garrity et al., 1989). Stallones et al. (1990) also showed that strong attachment to a pet is linked to less depression and loneliness, but only when pet owners had few human confidants. Similar findings were established in the case of cats by Mahalski, Jones, and Maxwell (1988).

Also, dog owners are more attached to their pets than cat owners according to OPRS (Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery) results. Nevertheless, participants who own pedigree pets are more attached to their companion animal than owners of pets without pedigrees.

More than friends: doctors

Why and how can pets help people heal from trauma is something Roxanne D. Hawkins, Joanne M. Williams and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tried to reveal in their study conducted on pets and children.

According to their research, pets satisfy the need for comport and reassurance, assistance, and protection. Attachments to a pet dog may function as a secure base by providing security and stability from which children can explore their environment. Furthermore, dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child’s attachment related behavior.

However, pets may offer a pathway towards re-establishing attachment security with others, as found in children in foster care. Pets can facilitate the development of human attachment relationships and can act as another attachment figure in the absence or disruption of human attachment relationships, such as parental divorce.

The research of Quinn (2005), on adults, has shown similar results – the  pet  attachment  construct measured with the Companion Animal Bonding Scale (CABS; Poresky, Hendrix, Mosier & Samuelson, 1987) was not significantly  correlated  with  attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, anxiety, or depression.

According to Van Houte and Jarvis (1995) pet-owner relationships can serve as a substitute for other socialrelationships. Companionship – a commonly stated reason for pet ownership – is regarded as theoretically distinct from social support because it does not offerextrinsic support but provides intrinsic rewards, such as shared pleasure in recreation, relaxation, and uncensored spontaneity, all of which add to quality of life (McNicholas et al., 2005).

Similar findings were established in the case of cats by Mahalski, Jones and Maxwell (1988).  Goldmeier (1986) performed a correlational study which showed that older women living with pets were less lonely, more optimistic and more interested in making plans for the future, as well as less nervous compared to women that lived entirely alone.

“(…) A dog is not a cat is not a bird.” (R. Lee Zasloff)

Andreea Marinas
Content Writer

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