Our Healing Relationships With Pets


While it is generally difficult for large numbers of Americans to agree on the same issue, it seems that when it comes to pets and the value we place on them, there is little disagreement. The 2011 American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey reported that an astounding 62 percent of all American households have a pet living with them.

An identified 46.3 million households own 78.2 million dogs. Cat households of 38.9 million own 86.4 million cats. Freshwater fish, birds, reptiles and horses, along with small animals such as rabbits, hamsters and others, represent another 25.3 million pets.

Terms Of Endearment

Americans, it appears, have also come to view and treat their pets in human terms. No longer satisfied with relegating the family pet to its own  domain, today’s pet lovers are demanding the highest quality products and services for those they love and are also integrating their pets into all areas of the home.

The majority of pets today share beds and sleeping quarters in their households. This trend is not confined to the United States, however. Monty P. Satiadarma, a psychologist at the Tarumanagara University in Jakarta told The Jakarta Post, Asia News Network: “Having a pet allows a person to learn to take care of something and elevates the sense of caring, which positively supports the development of well-being.”

Pets are a hit around the world.

In terms of dollars and cents, expenditure on pets for 2010-2011 exceeds $50 billion. That’s no mistake: $50 billion. It’s a hard-to-believe number. It represents more money being spent on pets in the United States than the gross national product for all but 64 countries around the world.

The presence of pets is so popular today that nursing facilities host therapy pets on a regular basis. The one downside to this practice: Sometimes, the residents start arguing and competing over who gets to keep the cat, dog or bird with them for the day.

Pet Passion

What fuels our passion for pets? It is really quite simple. Our pets love us unconditionally. They listen to us and don’t complain or express disappointment about who we are. They provide companionship without the politics or agenda of most human relationships. They accept our love and affection the way we give it and, best of all, they happily return it.

Our pets are the ultimate loving family members, and we are now treating them as such. Can anyone blame us? Social networking has become the way we communicate and “do” relationships. These days, it is often over email and text messages that we are starting relationships or ending them, sharing major life events — even proposing marriage. The gap in our intimate contact with other human beings, intimacy we still had just 10 years ago before the dominance of the Internet and cellphones, is being filled by our pets.

Healing Power

Pets are not only beloved companions; they are also healers. Dogs have long been known for their service as seeing-eye dogs, but the use of dogs and other pets in numerous areas of healing and health monitoring are becoming more widely used. Dogs who alert their companions just before a seizure or “sniff out” cancer, or pigs and horses that assist with helping draw out autistic children are frequently displayed on the news and the Internet. You can also read about therapy cats that lower blood pressure, slow down heart rate and reduce depression and stress while providing companionship and affection.

A study by researcher Dr. Karen Allen at the State University of New York at Buffalo demonstrated that hypertensive individuals who adopted a dog or cat had less of a rise in blood pressure during stressful situations than their counterparts who did not have a pet companion.

The National Institute of Technology Assessment Workshop, Health Benefits of Pets, recognized that pets provide psychological stability that not only protects from heart disease and other stress-related conditions, but also reduces depression. In the same report, pets were shown to lower the cost of healthcare because individuals with pets make fewer doctor visits, especially “for non-serious medical conditions.”

A Purdue University study demonstrated that when the elderly face traumas or other adversity, the affection they receive from their pets and the bond they share with them help prevent depression and loneliness. Animals provide emotional support, which is an essential component for health and healing. Pets enhance our psychological and physical well-being. They love us, heal us and help us live longer and often provide more honest, non-judgmental and loving relationships than our human companions.

Georgianna Donadio

By Georgianna Donadio

is one of only six American Florence Nightingale Scholars, an award-winning nurse advocate, integrative healthcare provider, and behavioral health expert. She blogs for the Huffington Post and Dr. Oz's Teen Daily Strength, and is the author of the bestselling, #1 top rated Amazon Kindle book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills: Winner of the 2012 Indie Book Award and awarded 5 stars from ForeWord Clarion. She's also the Program Director for the National Institute of Whole Health. For 20 years, until recently retiring from television, Georgianna hosted a nationally syndicated television program, Woman to Woman® that explored all topics of interest to women, with a special focus on relationships. Her radio program, “Changing Behavior,” can be heard on All Positive Radio at healthylife.net. Contact her at www.changingbehavior.org where you can download a free book excerpt.