Human-Animal Bond
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NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286

Human-Animal Bond

The relationship between people and animals involves companionship, compassion, protection, and devotion. Learn what happens when people and animals develop an emotional bond.

Dear Veterinarian:
My wife and I are expecting a baby and we want to make sure we prepare our dog and cat for our new addition. What advice can you offer?

Dear Pet Owner:
Before the baby arrives, be sure that your pet is healthy. Several months before your baby is due, have your pet checked by your veterinarian and have its vaccines updated. Have the pet checked for any internal parasites with a stool sample, any external parasites (fleas, ticks), or other contagious conditions.

Your pet may also need to have your dog's behavior spiffed up. Spend extra time working on obedience commands such as sit, stay, no jumping and to drop things on command (this may come in handy when he tries to play with baby's favorite toy).

Establish a regular schedule ahead of time for your pet that includes feeding and exercise times. It is important to schedule time for your pet to get individual attention.

Do not leave your pets out of any of the preparations. Allow them to visit, observe and smell everything. If you are unsure how your dog or cat will react to a new baby, invite a friend with an infant over to visit and practice safely introducing the pet.

While the baby is in the hospital, have someone bring home clothing or a receiving blanket that the baby has used for your pet to see and smell. When the baby comes home, allow your pet to see and sniff the new addition. Make sure your pet is initially leashed or restrained. Talk gently, and massage the pet. Use treats and praise for good behavior and immediately correct any undesirable actions. Never leave your pet and new baby together unsupervised. A crying baby upsets everyone, including pets. Reassure them that everything is okay.

While this is an exhausting time for every new parent, try not to forget your cat or dog.

Dear Veterinarian:
My pet died a few months ago and I feel lost without her. I had Cookie for 15 years and she was with me through many important events in my life. My grief is overwhelming at times. Can you explain what I am feeling?

Dear Pet Owner:
Surveys show that many people regard their pets as members of the family. Consequently, the loss of a pet may leave pet owners feeling alone and without anyone who can relate to their feelings.

Many daily events may trigger feelings of loss and grief for pets that were part of the family for many years. The loss of a pet that once met us at the door, consoled us when we were feeling sad or anxious, and established a routine into our sometimes hectic lives can be devastating for some individuals. With the advances in medical care, many pets are able to live longer, good quality lives, even with conditions such as diabetes and cancer. Participating in an ongoing treatment process with our pets often strengthens an already intense bond and enduring the loss of a pet after such extended illnesses and caretaking process can make the loss even more profound.

Society is now acknowledging the emotional bond people share with their pets. Veterinarians remind pet owners that mourning the loss of a pet is normal and should not be cause for embarrassment. Pet owners experience the same stages of loss that everyone undergoes after the loss of a beloved family member or friend, including denial, bargaining, anger, grief, and resolution.

Cookie's veterinarian is still available to help as you deal with your own grief and can provide you with resources such as pet loss hotlines or support groups, and even offer support if and when you decide to open your heart to another animal in need of a home.

Dear Veterinarian:
I hear so much these days about the human-animal bond and all of the ways in which animals are helping people by serving as therapy dogs, going into hospitals and nursing homes and schools. Is there really evidence that these programs are helpful?

Dear Pet Owner:
The human-animal bond has received increasing recognition from health care providers around the country who realize what veterinarians have long suspected; that our animal friends are capable of offering unique benefits to children and adults alike. The human-animal bond describes the wonderful relationship where humans and animals benefit emotionally, in terms of companionship, and also physically, in terms of health.

Among senior citizens specifically, studies show that seniors who own pets visit the doctor less often and take less medication than non-pet owners; the elderly say pets help them to feel needed and are an incentive to get up in the morning; pets provide seniors with something to touch, a basic need which seniors who live alone are often deprived; pets help prevent depression and loneliness; pets encourage exercise and socialization – studies show that people walking dogs are engaged in conversations more than people who walk alone; pets have been shown to decrease heart attack mortality; and pets maintain humor in people's lives as the antics of a pet are sure to make you smile.

Classroom pets and visiting therapy animals in schools provide children with an opportunity to learn how to care for and respect a living creature. In hospitals, pets provide comfort to children and adults by providing a safe, calm and non-judgemental environment.

People can benefit from all types of animals and a veterinarian can help assess which pet might be best suited for a person's lifestyle or to a specific setting.

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