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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Overview of the Human-Animal Bond

By Lynette A. Hart, PhD, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California ; Mariko Yamamoto, PhD, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

Companion animals are commonly considered to be family members, and the human-animal bond has become a household term. More than half of all households in the USA have at least one dog or cat, and most pet owners have more than one pet. Cats outnumber dogs as companion animals, and many veterinary practices serve only cats. Yet, a 2008 study of the care pets receive reported that dogs were seen by a veterinarian more than twice as often as cats, even in households with both species.

Households with children are the most likely to have pets. Most couples also have pets, including retired couples, who have recently shown a growth rate in pet ownership. Currently, fewer than half of single persons have a pet. In dealing with owners, using approaches that incorporate the entire family is an important feature of a successful veterinary practice.

With the growing awareness of the human-animal bond, the roles of pets as service and therapy animals are expanding into new areas and fill many of the same support functions that people do. Service dogs assist people with various disabilities, including mobility, visual, or hearing impairments. The dogs may also detect and alert people to impending seizures or abnormal blood glucose levels.

The human-animal bond has also increased focus on ensuring that animals receive adequate consideration and care. Albert Schweitzer’s concept of “reverence for life” has become a standard for decision-making concerning animals. Acknowledgment of the human-animal bond has become a cornerstone of veterinary practice, and evidence suggests that practitioners who pay close attention to the various aspects of the human-animal bond will thrive both financially and in terms of finding their work enjoyable and rewarding.