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Psychology of Pets: Why People Are So Attached

Updated: Jan 23

The Science of Bonding

Pet-owners develop an attachment to their pets due to a rise in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone associated with positive emotions, particularly maternal ones. Oxytocin is commonly known to be the hormone that is released via a positive feedback loop during childbirth and when bonding with a baby. Through a positive feedback loop, the presence of oxytocin triggers an increased release of additional oxytocin to enhance the bonding experience. In this case, relationships between owners and pets elicits the release of oxytocin which intensifies the bond between pets and owners. A study by Marshall-Pescini et. al confirmed this causal relationship between oxytocin release and dog-owner attachment but were unable to confirm whether this hormone was unique to dog-owner relationships or dogs and humans in general. 

Mental Health

Pet-attachment is rooted in both positive and negative aspects of human mental health. Pet-attachment can often improve human health through the strengthen bond. On the other hand, pet-attachment may be the manifestation of an unhealthy anxious attachment or be rooted in insecurity. 

Ways in which pet-attachment improves mental health: 

  • Increases physical activity (e.g.: taking your high-energy dog for a walk)

  • Decreases anxiety 

  • Companionship: pets display an unconditional love which enhances the pet-owner bond 

  • Reduced depression and isolation (e.g.: establishing a feeding, bathroom, and sleep schedule for your pet creates structure in the owner’s own personal schedule. Taking a dog on walks introduces the owner to other pet owners) 

Ways in which pet-attachment is beneficial to specific demographics: 

  • Children: owning a pet as a child improves early childhood development by training children to have a sense of ownership and responsibility over their pet

  • Children that owned pets demonstrated reduced aggression and increased compassion

  • Owners with intellectual disabilities benefit from owning pets and provide an environment to build trust, social skills, and confidence

Authored by Patricia Arulchelvam

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