The Pets Doc

Dr. Kevin Watkins, DVM

812-273-1803

Human – Animal bond – Close ties to our pet can help improve life

We recently adopted the newest member of the Watkins clan, a baby Siamese kitten, which has been bestowed the name, Scottie Blue.

Scottie was barely 5 weeks old when he was taken from his feline mama and deposited at the animal shelter, so his little digestive tract has been – off, to put it delicately. He simply cannot handle anything more than kitten replacement formula and pulverized roasted chicken. Scottie has required round-the-clock feeding and nursing, and I am reminded of what it is like to care for a premature infant.

His total dependency on us has gotten me to thinking about the human-animal bond, the deep and profound connection we have with our pets.

To many of us, our pets are surrogate children, and we treat them and talk to them the same way we do our human children. They depend on us just as completely to provide for their basic needs – food, shelter and companionship. And in return for these things, they offer unconditional love and devotion. Pets give us the opportunity to be caregivers and fulfill an innate human need to nurture, which in turn, boosts our health and longevity.

There is an abundance of information on the benefits of surrounding ourselves with furry companions. Researchers at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Indiana’s own Purdue University, and the University of Pennsylvania, asked subjects in one recent study to describe their relationship with their pets. The most common words repeated were love, affection, trust, companionship, loyalty, need and care.

Here’s an interesting fact I found, and a compelling reason to love a pet: Four times as many heart attack patients without a pet died than those with pets. Dog and cat owners were also found to have lower blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels than people without pets. This is also true for people who own tropical fish, so clearly, they don’t have to have fur to qualify as a pet.

Apparently, we’ve been keeping animals as pets for centuries. A recent archeological dig on the island of Cyrus in the Mediterranean Sea revealed the 9,500-year-old remains of a complete domesticated African Wild Cat buried 16 inches from its owner. Cats are not native to Cyrus, so it was concluded that it must have been brought to the island by humans, probably to help protect grain from rodents. Both cat and human were buried facing west, along with several sacred artifacts, indicating, if not religious significance, at least emotional attachment.

I bonded with my first pet when I was 7 years old. It was a beautiful Siamese name O’Henry, and I have loved and grieved deeply for many since then. But I can’t imagine ever living without them. Now, our premature baby, Scottie Blue, has come to us.

Scottie fills a void that loss and grief had left in my daughter, Gillian’s, heart after her feline companion, Chloe, died two years ago. Scottie’s arrival reminds me that I will never have to worry about empty nest syndrome. Somehow, that’s very re-assuring to me.

Margo Watkins, Pet Behavior Counselor

Pawsitive Pet Behavior Blog