Pets bring a lot of joy into an individual’s life. Most people think of their pets as members of the family. A study showed that when people pet their own dogs, they experience a significant spike in serotonin – a feel good chemical – leading to positive hormonal changes. Pets play an important role in our lives and recent developments in pet-tech is making our bond with them even stronger.
We have a feedback system which allows us to neurochemically, psychologically and behaviorally build a relationship with our pets. How good we are to our pets is often reflected by the pet. fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies show our brain works just like a mother’s brain, where regions light up very strongly in the dopamine and oxytocin rich areas when a parent looks at a picture of his/her baby.
25 years ago, scientists discovered that oxytocin was produced throughout the brain and in all the areas that control behavior and emotion. It was talking to other classic brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline, setting up a perfect mental physiologic state of calm which creates the bond that lasts a lifetime. Moreover, animals have always had a great impact on humans’ lives for decades. For example, horses provided rapid transport, communication and military power. Even though they have been replaced by technological means of transportation, they still play an important role in today sophisticated mounted riding.
Evidence confirms that a pet’s company helps to lower stress levels that today modern life might cause. A simple chat with your dog after a long day at the office can have a positive impact on your mood and lower blood pressure. Pets can also improve our immune system or even detect cancer in the extreme of cases.
As they spend a lot of time outside, they can carry all sorts of dirt and germs. This can also be a thing for children as additional germs improve the immunity to colds and other mild illnesses. A research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied how owning a dog can affect the odds of developing allergies and found that people who grew up with dogs tended to have stronger immune systems.
Having a pet involves being able to take care of another living being. Therefore, in a family, a child should be able to develop the practical skills required to own a pet such as cleaning out the cage, grooming and teaching tricks. This also develops nurturing and empathy skills, which are vital in later life. It teaches about appreciating the differing temperaments, behaviors and needs of others, respecting safety and the unpredictability of some animals but most importantly the love, care, and memories they bring.
Pets also help their owners through dramatic events, like the death of a loved one. Hence, the decision to own a pet can come from a feeling of loneliness and the need of attention and affection. According to Bowlby’s attachment theory, people form attachments at birth for purposes of comfort and security; affection; anxiety reduction and separation from these attachments causes distress.
“I am not a big fan of animals” is my usual response to those who ask if I have any pet. I did have many pets growing up including rabbits, turtles, dogs, hamsters, gold fishes and parrots. My first pet was a dog that my parents had even before I was born. She was my first true friend. She saw me getting ready for my first day of school and waited for me to come back. Unfortunately, when I was eight I came home from summer camp and found out she had run away and was found dead in a park. I felt lost. My parents then bought two other dogs for me, and the fact that I named them the same as my first dog, was a psychological consequence I underestimated. Many authors call it “disenfranchised grief”, a grief that cannot be openly acknowledged or when feelings are trivialised. This all shows the strong emotional connection we share with our pets.
Nowadays, the fast-pace development of technology and pet-tech has changed the animal-human bond. Devices like the PetDialog+ from Zoetis aim to help owners to keep their pets healthier. These are simple apps on your smartphone. PetDialog+ can track a lot of information such as weight, food, sleeping patterns and even records of blood glucose levels which is useful to the owner and veterinarians. The app is characterised by alarms which are sent to veterinarians to regularly check and monitor any pets’ health issues on time. The continuous flow of data and algorithms allows vets to have a whole picture of the pet’s health status.
More playful apps, like the PetCube provides wheels and a Wi-Fi-enabled camera, allowing you to interact with your pet anytime and anywhere. It is even possible to control a toy for your dog to chase by simply clicking “play”. New research is also focused on developing pet translators, so humans can better understand what their pets mean by their sounds and gestures.
Pet’s undoubtedly play a big part in the life of their owners. These technological innovations of pet-tech not only improve pets’ well-being, but they also improve the mental health of their owners, giving pet parents a peace of mind as their pets are safer, happier and healthier.