Honoring and Understanding the Human-Animal Bond:
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines the Human-animal bond as follows:
“The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and wellbeing of both. This includes, among other things, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. The veterinarian’s role in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potential of this relationship between people and animals.
The AVMA recognizes: (1) the existence of the human-animal bond and its importance to client and community health, (2) that the human-animal bond has existed for thousands of years, and (3) that human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.”
While this acknowledgment of this bond between human and animal is extremely important, I personally feel part of the emotional connection goes even deeper than these words imply. Anyone who has felt that incredible closeness with a beloved companion often has never experienced such a connection even with the humans in their lives. And it is clear from the reactions we see in our animals they also experience something magical in the bond. Oxytocin is a hormone found in all mammals and even in birds, reptiles, and fish a similar hormone exists. This hormone is often referred to as the “love hormone” and it plays a significant role in human bonding, and most likely explains how our pets feel about us. Studies have shown an increase in oxytocin levels in dogs after gazing into their caregiver’s eyes and an increase in oxytocin levels in cats after playing with their caregivers.
It is also well accepted that animals can dramatically improve mental health by improving symptoms of depression, PSTD, anxiety, and decreasing feelings of loneliness. And with the passing of laws that allow animals as Service Animals or Emotional Support Animals, there is no doubt the impact they can make on our lives.
Unfortunately, we all must eventually pass from this lifetime and for so many this knowledge can lead to significant worry and anxiety about the loss of this relationship. In my personal education and growth in the field of end-of-life veterinary care, I have had the incredible fortune of working with and getting to know two incredible professionals that can help with this inevitability. I encourage all to explore their websites and resources they offer well before the time comes to say goodbye to your companion. Perhaps in doing so you will realize when your companion must go, they may not be with you in physical form any longer, though they are not gone. There are many ways in which you can maintain your relationship and this information may also transform your life.