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Global Perspectives: A Second Look at the Human–Animal Bond in Practice

Gregg K. Takashima, DVM, WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee Series Editor

Ethics & Human-Animal Bond

|June 2017|Web-Exclusive

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Today’s small animal veterinarian is being challenged with competition from internet companies, student debt issues, and the latest strategies in communication and management. Add to this the corporatization of the profession, the ever-changing (and expensive) technology for diagnostics and treatments, and a perceived loss of our previous status as one the most respected professions. By some reports, these events will only intensify.

Yet pet ownership continues to grow more popular in many countries, and owners continue to spend money on veterinary care and other pet products and services.

“In an age of research when it is tempting to reduce emotions to biochemical reactions and to rely heavily on the technology of medicine, it is refreshing to find that a person’s health and well-being may be improved by prescribing contact with other living things … never forget to ‘cure when possible, but comfort always.’”—Michael J. McCulloch, MD7

Rising popularity of pet ownership appears to be driven by growing acceptance of the concept called the human–animal bond, described as “the mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both.”1 A growing list of evidence-based research2 shows that one’s mental, physical, and emotional health are improved through positive interactions with animals. In a Human–Animal Bond Research Initiative-sponsored survey3 of 1000 family practice physicians, 97% believed in the health benefits of pet ownership, 69% have successfully worked with animals in medicine, and 60% have recommended a pet to a patient.

With respect to the veterinary profession, several studies have been performed. A 2006 study linked the strength of the human–animal bond with veterinary visits, with people considering pets part of the family averaging 3 visits per year, those considering pets companions averaging 2.2 visits per year, and those considering pets property averaging 1.1 visits per year.4 A later study had similar findings and showed that compliance with recommendations was higher if owner attachment was high.5

A more recent survey of 2000 pet owners6 indicated that education about the human-health benefits of pet ownership would influence them to better maintain their pets’ health by improving their compliance with preventive care veterinary visits, better nutrition, and even pet insurance purchase. In the study, 77% of millennials—a growing segment of the pet-owning public—said they would visit their veterinarian more often if the health benefits of the human–animal bond were explained to them.

Creating an authentic culture of embracing, nurturing, and promoting the human–animal bond will be just as important for small animal veterinarians as tracking income or purchasing high-tech devices.

References and Author Information

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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This article is published as part of the Global Edition of Clinician's Brief. Through partnership with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the Global Edition provides educational resources to practitioners around the world.


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