This review describes the continuing relationship between companion animals and humans. Humans function as primary caregivers to their pets without asking for tangible benefits in return; however, most individuals and studies have described the immense physical and emotional health and well-being provided by interactions with pets. The biophilia and social support hypotheses may explain this. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that human beings inherently wish to interact with animals and nature; however, increasingly urban and industrialized lifestyles are giving people fewer opportunities to do so. A companion animal can assist in this natural tendency. In additional, companion animals enhance psychological well-being, reduce anxiety, and provide health benefits (particularly cardiovascular health, including reduction of hypertension). The social support hypothesis implies that a lack of social support networks is a huge risk factor for subsequent physical and psychological problems. This suggests that companion animals function in social support and may even facilitate social interactions in their human companions. Companion animals reduce loneliness, provide well-being, are constantly available and nonjudgmental, and offer unconditional love. Practical interventions, such as animal-assisted intervention (including animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities), have resulted in anxiety reduction and enhanced patient well-being, attendance, compliance, and adherence to therapies.
Commentary: This interesting review discusses the long-standing, mutually-beneficial relationship between humans and companion animals. The author describes the necessity to continually foster such interactions because of tremendous physical, health, psychological, and emotional benefits. She postulates that ongoing study, research, funding, and interdisciplinary collaboration are essential and should be formally prioritized, with the ultimate goals to support animal-assisted intervention programs, physical or psychological therapy or assistance, or simple accommodation of pet animals in urban environments to reap benefits of pet ownership.—Indu Mani, DVM, DSc
Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead. O’Haire M. J VET BEHAV 5:226-234, 2010.