The human-companion animal bond is of great public interest as well as a growing area of study for the scientific community.
The study of human-animal (all species) interaction, still in its infancy, is known as anthrozoology, but the field is multi-disciplinary – students and researchers in other diverse disciplines in both human welfare and animal welfare may also study the effects of human-animal interactions. These disciplines include psychology, animal welfare, health studies, occupational therapy, counselling, anthropology, art, sociology and philosophy.
Both established and new researchers are keen to explore and quantify the effects of people-pet interactions and describe the conditions and mechanisms whereby this relationship can produce mutual beneficial effects. This has culminated in a rich base of qualitative, case-study evidence of the benefits of pets for people and, in more recent years, the emergence of many small-scale studies investigating this important relationship.
For the field to gain more widespread support and recognition within scientific circles, there is a need to produce more large-scale studies, with larger sample sizes and randomised control trials. The strong evidence-base for this area of study is steadily growing as illustrated in the quality of the studies reported in the two main peer-reviewed journals of the human-animal bond, Anthrozoos and Society and Animals.
Research topics in the field are diverse and can cover some of the following broad categories:
- Health benefits of pet ownership (physical, psychological, social) for people of different ages eg children, older people
- Benefits of pet interaction for ‘vulnerable’ groups in society eg people with mental health problems or physical disabilities, offender rehabilitation
- Therapeutic effects of interactions (eg visiting, residential, part of structured therapeutic setting) with different species of animals (eg dogs, cats, guinea pigs, sheep)
- Personality factors in animal selection
- Economic savings resulting from pet ownership
- Animal welfare considerations in the human-animal bond, particularly animal-assisted interventions
- Attachment and loss
- Cross-cultural comparisons of attitudes and behaviours towards companion animals
- Animal hoarding
- Links between animal abuse and child abuse
- Zoophilia and bestiality
- Policy and practice eg surveys of pet keeping, species selection, housing policies