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Why do humans keep pets?

Top quality pet care in Brentwood, TN and Franklin, TN, at Franklin Kennels

You don’t see a dog walking around with a pet cat. Rabbits don’t hang out with their hamster pets. But humans, we have pets. When you need top quality pet care in Brentwood, TN and Franklin, TN, we’re here for you and your furry friend.  In the meantime, learn more about why humans keep pets.

It is unclear just how far back pet-keeping goes. We know that, thousands of years ago, our ancestors likely kept some wolves around. They may have captured them young, domesticated them and found that they were useful for hunting. Gradually they became tamer companions and evolved into dogs. This could have been as early as 27,000 years ago according to a study published in May 2015.

Ever since, humans have had dogs around, and keeping a pet has become a common part of many cultures. This may seem strange when you consider that it is a costly business. Pets get meals, healthcare and a home for life. Though they clearly provide companionship, it is time-consuming and care often goes one way (minus some exceptions like guard dogs). Many years down the line, your offspring may provide for you. Taking care of close relatives now also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. They share our genes so ensuring they survive helps our genes to continue. The same is not true for the family dog, cat or rat. You cannot expect your pet to offer anything material in return. Yet millions of people keep them and consider them an integral part of the family.

Many reasons have been proposed. For several decades there was a prevailing view that they provided health benefits such as increased psychological well-being and could even make people live longer. However, the evidence is contradictory. While some research has shown that pets do increase some aspects of health, more recently the opposite has also been found. For example, research has shown that people with pets tend to have more mental health issues and suffer from increased levels of depression than non-pet owners. Other studies suggest that the happiness of pet owners is no greater than those who do not keep a furry creature around.

Although these proposed health benefits have largely been debunked in recent years, they are still perpetuated by popular media, says John Bradshaw of Bristol University’s School of Veterinary Sciences in the UK. “People don’t live longer if they have a pet. The argument that it’s adaptive now is out.” But sharing your life with an animal could have been useful in the past. It showed that females were good at providing care for helpless mammals – an indication of the care-giving qualities a future mother might have, Bradshaw says. It also demonstrated and nurtured empathetic behavior. Other theories suggest that having a pet such as a dog may be an “honest signal” of a person’s wealth. That is, caring for an animal shows the owner has adequate extra resources to provide for it in addition to him or herself. “There’s a lot of history and culture with how we chose to express this desire to look after animals, but basically it is a human instinct that used to be an honest signal of the ability to look after animals,” says Bradshaw.

James Serpell, professor of Animal Ethics & Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, goes one step further and says that there are still evolutionary benefits today to keeping pets. Because we are such a social species, he says, we are constantly seeking relationship with others – including with our pets. “Humans which lack social support are more vulnerable to disease and infection.” However, he admits that it is difficult to demonstrate this effect and, as we have seen, the results are inconsistent.

Culture also invariably plays a role. Not all societies have pets as we know them. A cross-cultural analysis of 60 countries found that 52 of them kept dogs, but were only considered companions, or pets, in 22 of them.

Whatever your reason for having a pet – and there are many great ones, we’re here to help with pet care in Brentwood, TN and Franklin, TN!

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