Are You Ditching Human Relationships for Animal Love?

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You might have noticed a trend or you may even be one of the trendsetters yourself: preferring the company of animals over other people. There are several reasons why this trend has grown, but the most obvious is that animals provide humans with unconditional love and companionship.

With the world becoming increasingly chaotic and stressful, it’s no wonder that you and others are seeking solace in your animal friends’ furry (or scaly!) arms. But is this trend a healthy one?

History of the Human-Animal Bond

The human-animal bond is undoubtedly a powerful and unique one. You may love your pets so much you call them your babies or children, and your phone is likely cluttered with photos and videos of them instead of your human family members.

Have you ever wondered when this relationship began? Turns out, it has existed since the dawn of civilization. Ancient cultures showed deep respect and admiration for animals. From tales of mythical creatures to art and religious texts, evidence of humans’ connection to animals can be found throughout history.

A woman sitting on a couch places her finger on her pet cat's nose

Earliest Evidence of the Human-Animal Bond

The earliest evidence of the human-animal bond dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period, around 14,000 years ago. In 1914, quarry workers in Germany discovered the grave of two adults and two dogs. This evidence suggests that humans had not only domesticated dogs by this period, but considered them so much a part of the family that they chose to be buried with them.

Over time, the human-animal bond continued to evolve. By the Mesolithic period (10,000-8,000 BCE), humans used dogs as hunting partners and guards. Around the same time, humans domesticated cats in the Near East to help with rodent problems, and in ancient Egypt, even viewed cats as sacred animals!

During the Neolithic period (8,000-4,000 BCE), humans domesticated horses and used them for transportation. And by the Bronze Age (4,000-1,200 BCE), cats were actively kept on ships as rat catchers and as a result, spread to multiple parts of the world. The domestication of animals led to a closer relationship between humans and animals—a relationship that continues to grow stronger over time.

The Modern Human-Animal Bond

The human-animal bond reached new heights in the 18th century with the advent of animal welfare movements. Society created these movements in response to the growing use of animals in factories and farms. Animal welfare advocates argued that animals should be treated with compassion, which led to reforms such as more humane methods of slaughtering animals and better living conditions on farms. 

In 2022, the human-animal bond is stronger than ever before. In addition to traditional pets like dogs, cats, and horses, you might have less common pets like reptiles, rodents, and birds. From exotic foxes to rainforest tree frogs, people are discovering new and exciting ways to bond with animals.

In recent decades, pets took on the role of service animals, helping people with disabilities or mental health conditions navigate their daily lives as independent individuals. Although seeing eyes dogs were introduced in the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1990 that Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act and recognized service animals as “working animals.” This law has been instrumental in providing people with disabilities greater access to public places and services as well as fair treatment to animals on duty.

Additionally, clinical research studies found that therapy animals can help reduce stress levels, improve communication and social skills in children with autism, and provide emotional support to those suffering from depression. This has led to the widespread use of therapy animals in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and work settings. 

A senior man sitting on a bench is greeted by dogs and cats

Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond

Extensive research supports the positive effects of the human-animal bond. Studies indicate that pet owners are 41% less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Other research has found that owning a pet can reduce your anxiety levels, lower stress hormone release, lower blood pressure, and even improve your cardiovascular health.

The attachment between you and your dog is so strong that just by engaging in the act of petting, you both exhibit higher levels of oxytocin hormones, the same “love hormone” that mothers and babies experience during emotional bonding.

Even for non-pet owners, you may find yourself Googling cute animals when you need to de-stress from the day!

Importance of Unconditional Love and Nonjudgmental Support

The human-animal bond goes beyond physical benefits. Companion animals provide you with companionship, unconditional love, and emotional support. They don’t care about your job, bank balance, or appearance, and want to be with you and make you feel loved.

In a world where it seems like everyone is judging each other, your bond with your pet is a refreshing reminder of what it feels like to love someone without judgment and be loved in return. As a result, you will often feel increased social support, higher self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

Pets Act as Social Icebreakers

Pets can also function as social icebreakers—they lower stress levels around strangers, and strangers often feel more comfortable interacting with you. They provide you with a sense of connection and belonging, which is especially beneficial for shy or socially anxious people.

Having a common interest in animals provides an easy topic of conversation, which can help you make new connections and build meaningful relationships. According to a recent survey of 2,000 cat and dog owners, 34% claim they met their life partners and 32% met their best friend because of their fur babies.

Dogs are exceptional at engaging strangers and making new friends for their owners. Their cute stares and proactive behavior bypass human social etiquette and warm the hearts of even the most introverted people. To prove the point, research shows that strangers are more likely to help an individual with a dog than an individual without a dog.

Unlike the common misconception that pet owners tend to withdraw from the public, studies show that, if you have a pet, you are more socially active and open to socializing than the general population. Because of the increased opportunities for socialization, you may be more likely to have larger social circles than those that don’t own pets!

A boy looks at his pet hamster

Pets Force You To Be Active

Exercise is essential for physical and mental health. While most people understand the importance of being active, many others struggle to stay motivated. Having a pet can motivate you to keep moving. Because dogs especially require regular walks and playtime to remain healthy, these activities usually force you to take outdoor breaks in between your busy schedule.

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With the recent trend of pet mental health, cat owners and other non-dog pet owners have taken steps to bring their pets outside to play with them. While you take your unusual animal out for a walk, you and passersby can share chuckles and pleasant conversations that make your strolls an even more unique and enjoyable experience.

Pets Create Structure in Your Life

Animals thrive on routine and structure, and humans often benefit from the same. Having a pet forces you to stick to a routine and schedule; you must feed your pet at certain times throughout the day, take them for walks at regular intervals, and provide them with proper care such as brushing their fur or trimming their nails. These routines can also give you a sense of responsibility and provides the perfect opportunity for you to practice discipline, learn about commitment, and build self-esteem.

Furthermore, having a pet often means innately developing a healthier lifestyle. You are more likely to go to bed earlier, maintain better eating habits, and take better care of yourself because you know your pet depends on you. As a pet owner, you often laugh about your fur babies giving you stern stares or complaining when you fall out of your routine. Instead of feeling criticized, you may feel grateful that they provide more structure in your life.

Pets Are Life’s Teachers

You can learn a great deal from your pets, whether they are cats, dogs, birds, or other small animals. Pets offer unconditional love and loyalty even when you make mistakes or have bad days (or breath). They don’t judge you for your flaws or choices but offer you emotional comfort and support. Studies indicate that children who grow up around pets learn responsibility, empathy, and other essential life skills earlier than those who don’t.

Having a pet is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Not only do they provide you with companionship, but they also teach you to be more patient and understanding of others. At the same time, because most pets have a shorter life span than humans, they also remind you of the preciousness of life and to make the most out of every moment.

Overall, pets can enrich your life in ways you never imagined, which is why it’s no surprise that many consider their furry friends part of the family.

A boy holds a pet turtle

Downsides of Having a Pet Companion

Like any relationship, having an intense attachment to only one other can become unhealthy and limiting–and this goes for attachment to pets, too. When you make your pet the main focus of your life, it can have a detrimental effect on the development of other relationships.

Sometimes the pet can come between couples, as well. According to surveys, about half of pet owners would break up with someone who does not accept how they treat their pets. And about 72.9% of pet owners admit they would rather stay home with their pets than go out with their friends. So while pets can be a social icebreaker, they can also limit your ability to interact with others.

Placing Pets’ Needs Over Personal Needs

Another common problem you may face as a pet owner is prioritizing your pet’s needs over your own. Pets can be needy and demanding, and you may find yourself catering to your pet’s needs more than your own. 49% of pet owners admit that they will pick up a second job to afford their pets’ treatment. About 86% of individuals state that their pet’s comfort and needs are the top priority when seeking a new home.

As a result, you may be more likely to experience breakups when your significant other sees the pet’s needs prioritized over everything else.

Woman holds two dogs in her arms

Not All Relationships Are Beneficial

Just like in human relationships, not every personality meshes well with another. This problem can also occur between individuals and their pets. While you may imagine every owner-pet relationship as magical and nurturing, not all are beneficial or healthy.

According to a survey study on cat and dog owners who believe their personality clashes with that of their furry friend, these individuals score lower on their general satisfaction towards life and are more likely to report psychological distress than those who report compatibility. Because of their heightened anxiety level, these individuals may find it harder to control their emotions and initiate healthy relationships with others.

Pets Can Affect Your Health

As adorable as it is to snuggle up to the furry pals on the bed and enjoy their company, it is important to note that not all pets are created equal. While having a dog or cat can help reduce your anxiety levels and sense of loneliness, some pets may increase your risk of allergies and illnesses.

Even if you are not allergic to your pet, having them around can still affect your health. Like many pet owners, you may sleep in odd positions in bed so that your pets can be more comfortable. And for pets who tend to become active at night, you often get less than seven hours of sleep due to noise and disruption.

Finding Balance and Setting Boundaries Are Key

Whether it is the bond between you and your friend or significant other, or the bond between you and your pet, the key to a successful and healthy relationship is finding a balance and setting boundaries. For example, instead of always prioritizing your pet’s needs, it is crucial to value your own needs.

Most of the time, individuals who suffer from unfulfilled relationships tend to overcompensate and make their pet the center of attention, which can be both unhealthy and limiting.

Additionally, if you feel anxious or overwhelmed when interacting with your pets, you may find it beneficial to seek assistance and counseling treatments from professionals. Remember that animals can easily pick up cues of emotional distress.

According to Clive Wynne, director of the Arizona State University Canine Science Collaboratory, “Dogs are amazingly social beings, so they are easily infected with our warmth and joy…but the converse is true as well, which means their owner’s stress and anxiety can also become the dog’s stress and anxiety.”

When you struggle to find a balance in your life, your pets may pick up these signals and become distressed as well. Therefore it is vital to seek help from professionals or loved ones and do your best to create healthy boundaries in your human-pet relationship.

Woman affectionately plays with cat on sofa

Bottom Line

Having a pet can bring you a wealth of comfort and joy. However, you must remember that, just like in any relationship, you must establish balanced and healthy boundaries for the relationship to prosper. Despite the famous saying “you are the world to your pet,” it is okay to prioritize personal needs and self-care.

By achieving a successful balance in your human-pet relationships, both you and your pet can benefit from a more extensive social support system, deeper relationships with others, and overall well-being.

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