Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond
The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that positively influences the health and well-being of both. While many of us intuitively understand the benefits of positive interactions with animals in our lives, an emerging body of research is recognizing the impact the human-animal bond can have on individual and community health.
Daniel Mills and Sophie Hall in the British Medical Journal say:
“It is clear that animal companionship has significant beneficial implications for the development of human emotional and cognitive development”. “The positive effects of animals in reducing negative emotions and increasing positive emotions may improve not only quality of life but can also help with the development of effective interventions. The potential of AAA to enable clinical interventions with a broad range of patients (for example, people with autism, Alzheimer’s and victims of abuse) is exciting and deserves scientific evaluation, so we can find out what is best for society”. Full article is here.
A few other examples of therapy animals improving the physical, social, and emotional health of clients:
- A therapy dog has a positive effect on patients’ pain level and satisfaction with their hospital stay following total joint arthroplasty (Harper, 2014).
- Fibromyalgia patients spending time with a therapy dog instead of in an outpatient waiting area at a pain management facility showed significant improvements in pain, mood and other measures of distress (Marcus, 2013).
- A walking program that matched sedentary adults with therapy animals resulted in an increase in walking over a 52 week graduated intervention with the participants stating their motivation for adherence was “the dogs need us to walk them” (Johnson, 2010).
- The presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder (O’Haire, 2013).
- Children made fewer errors in match-to-sample categorization task in the presence of a dog relative to a stuffed dog or human (Gee, 2010). Similar studies may indicate presence of a dog serves as both a source of motivation and a highly salient stimulus for children, allowing them to better restrict their attention to the demands of the task (Gee, 2012).
- Therapy animals in pediatric cancer studies improved motivation to participate in treatment protocol, to maintain their motivation over time, and to want to “get better” or stay optimistic (Sobo, 2006), (Barker, 2008).
Benefits extend to our companion animals and the presence of pets in our lives:
- Pet ownership, perhaps by providing social support, lowers blood pressure response to mental stress (Allen, 2001).
- Pet owners have higher one-year survival rates following heart attacks (Friedmann, 1980, 1995).
- Recognizing and nurturing the connection between animals and humans has potential implications for individual stability and health, improved economic outputs and healthcare cost savings (Takashima, 2014). This conclusion was based on a number of studies.
- Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk (Levine, 2013).
- Pet ownership was associated with a reduced risk for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and diffuse large cell lymphoma (Trahan, 2008).
- Human health savings of $3.86 billion over 10 years have been linked to pet ownership as related to a decrease in doctor visits in studies in Austria and Germany (Heady, 2002).
Whether it is pet ownership that gives us cause to exercise, offers an antidote for loneliness, and gives us loving companions to care for, or animal-assisted interventions that improve motivation to participate in treatment and lessen worry, anxiety, and pain, we recognise that animals can influence not just our happiness but also our health.