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What is the human-animal bond?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines the human-animal bond as:

“a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. The veterinarian’s role in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potentials of this relationship between people and animals.”1

cow lickWho is this strange kid? Tastes like boogers..

In honor of the awesomeness that is the human-animal bond, I’m going to put aside the excruciating embarrassment about my awkward child-self, and include some personal photos from the past.  And yep, that odd little girl above having her face licked by a cow is me, circa 1986.. My grandparents used to have a dairy farm in country Victoria, and hanging out with the animals there is central to so many happy childhood memories.

Me and Tiny Tim

My own little calf “Tiny Tim” wasn’t always this tiny

Let’s be honest, the special relationship we have with our pets is SUPER AMAZING!  It doesn’t matter whether we call ourselves pet owners or pet parents, or whether our furry little friends are our ‘pets’ or ‘fur-babies.’  It doesn’t matter if they are dog, cat, pony, bird or bunny; the fact is, we share a bond like no other.

Me and Obie

‘Obie’ would regularly be overhead telling the other horses “I’m not fat, I’m just big-boned”… 

The emotional attachment we feel with animals can be very strong.  Who else offers us unconditional love without ever judging us for our terrible fashion sense or wicked mood swings?  Who else sits and listens patiently as we rant about the horrible day we’ve had at work, never rolling their eyes or offering unasked for advice.  Just listening.  And maybe laying a furry chin on our knee, a silent request for a little scratch behind the ears.

Me, Anika, Billy and foster kitties

A very brave (or silly) foster kitten trying his luck playing with Anika’s tail (no kittens were harmed in the making of this photo!)

We can totally be ourselves around our pets.  We can pull stupid faces, dance around in the nude, sing badly, and even fart stinkily in their presence.  I’m being hypothetical of course…  Do they show disgust, or ask us to ‘talk to the paw’? Heck no, more than likely they offer a big doggy grin and join in.  Actually I’ve learned the hard way that a happy dance with my herding-breed dog tends to end with a torn pair of pants.

“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too” – Samuel Butler

Our feline friends may not be quite as quick to embarrass themselves (although there are a few goofy ones around), but nonetheless they’re not going to tell us off for being stupid.

Bumblebee Cat Costume

and let’s face it, they tolerate a lot of crap.  

Pets enrich our lives in so many ways, being there through the good times and the bad.  Often more so than any human companion.  We can share our innermost secrets with them and love them without ever fearing rejection, and they really ask for nothing in return.  Well that’s not entirely true, my dogs both routinely back up to me (cue sound of a truck reversing) in order to demand a butt scratch.  But that’s ok, I think I can manage that much in return for all their companionship and devotion.

little girls and dog

I can’t imagine having grown up without animals in my life

Pet ownership (or pet parenthood) has so many positives aside from being able to act like a crazy person without being judged.  The human-animal bond has been scientifically proven to benefit people.  It has been linked to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as reduced anxiety.  It increases opportunities for exercise and getting out and about and socializing, and it decreases feelings of loneliness.  Growing up with pets teaches kids many valuable lessons, and gives them someone to talk to when maybe no one else will listen.

the human-animal bond

We weren’t allowed to take Mog to school with us, but we would’ve liked to!

Then there are the truly incredible service animals without whom their owners simply couldn’t get through the day.  But that’s a story for another time.  Celebration of and protection of the human-animal bond is the reason veterinarians exist.  We wouldn’t have a job if people didn’t have profound emotional attachments to their pets, and we wouldn’t be vets if we didn’t also feel the same way.

Have you had an animal that has changed your life forever?



1. https://www.avma.org/kb/resources/reference/human-animal-bond/pages/human-animal-bond-avma.aspx

Joanna Paul

Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc

Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.

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Showing 9 comments
  • Samantha Ruckle (Barr)

    Aww! Those photos are exactly how I remember you and Jess! 🙂 Such good childhood memories!! xo

    • Joanna Paul

      Thanks Sam, hope Marley is being a good boy x

  • Ruan

    Yes, I had a puppy called Jock, also a Staffordshire like the one in the movie Jock of the Bushveld. Since I grew up as the only child, Jock became my best friend and my brother. He taught me many lessons in life and even though he is no longer with us today, he will forever live in my heart…

    • Joanna Paul

      That’s so beautiful Ruan. I’m not sure anyone could ask for a better best friend than one with paws 🙂
      Every pet I ever lived with as a child has a special place in my heart, even now all these years later.

  • Christie

    Hi Jo! I popped over from Blog Paws. Aw, I love your childhood photos! I just recently heard a bit on the radio about new scientific studies proving we have the same biological chemical reactions from our relationships with our pets as parents do with their children. Wish I could remember exactly where those were done, but it slips my mind right now. If I find it, I’ll let you know. Anyway, I look forward to reading more on your blog! -Christie Green

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Christie,
      Thanks so much! At some point I’ve heard about oxytocin release in people and their pets (is that the same as what you heard?) but I’m not sure where either, will have to look it up! If you do find it, please let me know, it’s fascinating isn’t it. Thanks for coming by 🙂

  • Eloise Bright

    Great article! Reminds me of all the wonderful things we are able to experience in being a vet. You are so right, it is not just about the animals, I love my pet-owning clients just as much as their pets, and I love seeing the different relationships people have with their animals.

    I am really keen for my children to have the sort of childhood I experienced, being surrounded by all manner of pets, but I was not lucky enough to have access to a farm! Where are you located? I work in a small animal practice in Sydney and do a little blogging also.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Eloise,

      thanks so much for the positive feedback! It’s good to be reminded of the wonderful aspects isn’t it, as sometimes I can get a bit demoralised by the less awesome parts of the job. I totally agree about having the kids surrounded by pets. I think not only is it beneficial for the things they can teach kids, but our family pets really are involved in most of my happy childhood memories.

      I’m in Melbourne and also a small animal vet. Looking forward to dropping by and checking out your blog 🙂

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