Science shows that the connection you have with your pet is as special as it feels.
The human-animal bond is a complex and beautiful relationship. Scientists and pet parents alike have pondered the meaning of the human-animal bond for ages.
As the log of historical evidence and modern research around the human-animal bond grows, we discover more ways in which our relationships with pets are unique and authentic. Let’s take a look at how this bond functions to appreciate how it benefits both parties fully.
Our Shared History
Animals form inter-species bonds, known as symbiotic relationships, that match different strengths and weaknesses to benefit both species’ survival. These relationships occur naturally and are believed to have existed long before humans documented them.
Humans began domesticating animals thousands of years ago as they selected, raised, and provided for animals that served their needs. Many of these animals were domesticated for use as livestock, but some started to build bonds with humans. Over time, the lives of humans and certain animals became intertwined to a point where they could not be separated. This bond has even survived the industrialization and modern lifestyles that currently separate many people from so many other elements of the natural world.
Humans are social creatures and easily form emotional attachments. However, those emotional attachments are not always reciprocated. Some animals that depend on us for care may not have the same capacity to form strong social bonds due to their evolutionary paths. These animals include some reptiles, insects, and other generally solitary species. Yet, even these creatures can grow accustomed to living with humans. They may not be domesticated, but a learned tolerance of human interaction is an example of how living beings can grow into coexisting.
Rats, rabbits, horses, and many other animals have come to share bonds with humans, but dogs and cats are the most popular domesticated species. In the U.S alone, over 50% of households are estimated to have either a cat or a dog, suggesting a strong human-animal bond with these species.
Communication Beyond Language
Despite not fully sharing speech with our pets, many people still feel strongly connected to them – possibly because we have developed nonverbal communication forms with animals.
Body language, for example, is a universal form of communication. Usually, it is only understood by members within the same species, but the human-animal bond has bridged that gap. Research has shown that dogs can identify human facial expressions, which may be why they are so good at supporting reading and responding to human emotional states.
Cats have also shown an impressive sense of communication with their human partners. Their self-domesticating origins would lead us to believe that cats have also evolved to understand human emotion, but studies suggest that it is actually a learned behavior. This fascinating discovery opens up the door to the possibility of other species learning to communicate with humans.
The Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond
So now we know that the human-animal bond is real, with ancient origins and a special connection, but what are both parties getting out of it?
Humans and animals can directly benefit each other’s physical health. Studies have shown that dog parents tend to have a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, be more fit, and have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. These individuals also typically spend more time outside since their animal companion desires to spend time in nature regularly.
Each species of pet requires a different level of activity. For example, people who have horses usually are more physically involved with their pets than cat parents. However, both require the human to play or care for their animal companions in some physical manner, so both promote physical health.
The human-animal bond also allows for life-saving interventions on both ends of the relationship. For humans, service animals can detect and alert others when a medical emergency happens. For our animal companions, the increasing reliance on and care for pets have led to advancements in veterinary medicine that have extended the natural life span of many companion species.
The human-animal bond extends to an even deeper level by affecting the mental wellbeing of humans. Studies and surveys have all pointed to pets improving our mood, facilitating routines, and reducing stress. This concept is the foundation for emotional support and therapy animals.
Science has backed this concept by finding increased positive emotion-related hormone production in humans interacting with animals. Physical signs of stress in humans have also decreased when they are experiencing a human-animal bond.
The human and non-human animal bond is real, and can have profound positive benefits for both parties. If you have an animal companion, you can reinforce your bond through quality time together and positive experiences. Although some pets may be more attuned with human emotions than others, animal companions of all kinds can support people in living healthier and happier lives.