Human-Animal Bond

People are interested in the bond between humans and companion animals for a variety of reasons.

Couple with dogMany pet owners see their pets as a valued member of the family and openly admit to loving their pets and having strong attachments – they simply enjoy the companionship and unconditional love their pet brings.

Practitioners including counsellors, veterinary surgeons, occupational therapists and GPs are increasingly aware of the influence that pets can have in the lives of their clients and how pets can be included in the delivery of care. And students and researchers are keen to qualify and quantify this unique relationship by advancing our understanding of how it works.

SCAS works to support pet owners, practitioners, students and researchers in their quest to understand more about this unique bond through information, publications, training and events.

A bond throughout the ages

Close relationships between people and animals date from the beginning of civilisation. Evidence of possible bonds between people and animals throughout the ages can be found in many different sources, such as literature, cave paintings, art and archaeological sites. Examples include:                                                                                      

  • Cats were kept by ancient Egyptians as pets. When a cat died, its owner would shave their eyebrows to signify to others in the community that he/she was mourning the death of their cat.
  • Historical evidence of what could have been an affectionate bond between people and dogs is suggested by the finding of a 14,000 year old human female skeleton, buried with her arms wrapped around the remains of a dog in an ancient Israeli burial site.

The bonds between people and companion animals can take many different forms. Here you’ll find a brief introduction to the most common types of bond, plus links to other organisations that can provide more detailed help and information.

Different types of bond

Pet ownership

iStock_000006962069_ExtraSmallMany people choose to share their lives with companion animals such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits.

These are usually informal interactions where owners simply enjoy the companionship of their pet. An increasing number of people and their dogs attend dog training and socialisation classes, and participate in agility games.

Assistance animals

People who have disabilities may have carefully trained and selected assistance dogs to provide practical and emotional support for everyday life (see: Dogs for the DisabledCanine PartnersSupport DogsAssistance Dogs (UK), and Hounds for Heroes).

Pet dogs trained to assist their owners

For example, pet dogs are being trained to support children with autism and their families (see Parents Autism Workshops and Support (PAWS)). These are not registered ‘assistance dogs’, but they help families get the most out of their relationship with an existing pet dog.

Working dogs

For example, military dogs, dogs working with specialist units that are trained to identify drugs, explosives, food etc (The PDSA Dickin Medal – known internationally as the animals’ Victoria Cross – has been awarded for military bravery for over 60 years. You can read inspiring stories of animal courage and exceptional devotion to duty at the PDSA animal bravery awards gallery).

Statistics about pet ownership in Europe*  

  • Rabbits are the fourth most popular pet in the UK.

    55 million European households own a pet. Of these households, there are:

  • 47 million cats
  • 41 million dogs

*Source: FEDIAF.

Statistics about pets in the UK

The Top 10 Pets in the UK for 2010*, starting with the most popular, are:
(the total number of species, rounded in millions)

  1. Fish (over 40.0M) Indoor and Outdoor)
  2. Dogs (around 8.0M)
  3. Cats (around 8.0M)
  4. Rabbits (around 1.0M)
  5. Birds (around 1.0M – Indoor)
  6. Domestic Fowl (around 1.0M)
  7. Guinea Pigs (around 0.7M)
  8. Hamsters (around 0.4M)
  9. Horses/Ponies (around 0.3M)
  10. Frogs/Toads (around 0.3M)

*Source: PFMA.

39% of London’s pet owners purchased their pet for companionship, despite having 7.5 million neighbours across the city.

PFMA, 2008