At, ILIV, our ecological approach to wellness involves more than just diagnosing the physical condition. It encompasses all aspects of life that can influence our health, which includes our relationships. Our primary relationships are with our family, which may consist of human family members and our pets which are our animal family members.
Why do we consider pets as part of the family? Because we fall in love with them! Research shows that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in creating the human-animal bond. Pet owners with high oxytocin levels and lower cortisol (stress) levels have a closer bond with their pets. Oxytocin is the same hormone that creates the bond in human relationships, such as the bond between mother and child. Further research suggests that we are drawn to cute baby animals because they can somewhat resemble a human infant’s soft features.
Some pet relationships are also very similar to our human relations. A 2014 study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that on an MRI, brain patterns are similar in women who viewed pictures of their own children and those who viewed their pets. This study suggests that maternal feelings may extend towards their animals.
“Our interactions with animals can be useful models for understanding how issues of identity, nurturing, support and attachment play out in a relationship. It’s all about human psychology, anthrozoologist Pauleen Bennett says, “Pets help to fill our need for social connectedness.
People mainly adopt pets for companionship but they also feel that animals provide a sense of comfort, amusement and unconditional love. Reports and surveys from pet owners conclude that having a pet makes people happier overall and gives their life a sense of meaning.
Because of our bond with animals, pets are also being used and studied as therapy for stress reduction in patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other wellness centers for those with special needs. In fact, at ILIV, we have our Zeno who is “in training” as a therapy dog. As a research institute, we hope to add our own research study to those that show the many benefits that pets bring into our lives.
Scientific American Mind May 2015