I don’t prefer to use the term “pet” when referring to my dog or cat because I, like many other modern Americans, see them instead as members of the family. I consider my cat, Oscar, to be my son and my sister’s pitbull, Rillo, my niece. My parents even refer to themselves as ‘Nana’ and ‘Popsy’ when talking to or about Rillo, and she soaks in this coded language and forms her own vocabulary by association. Animals may not be able to speak our language but they are excellent at picking up on our verbal and nonverbal cues which in turn guide their behavior. Research has concluded that the best explanation for dogs’ specialized social skills is that they evolved as a consequence of dogs having been domesticating by humans, representing a case of convergent cognitive evolution.
I believe cats posses these same capabilities but are more independent by nature than dogs and therefore follow social cues when they deem it necessary for affection or their own self gratification. If Oscar wants to go outside and hunt for the day, he starts purring loudly at 4 am, rubbing his face on mine to make sure I’m up and responding to his affection. If I don’t get up to let him outside, he jumps on my dresser and starts pushing various figurines on the floor, staring at me in the eyes with each swipe of his paw until I leave my bed. Anyone that has a pet knows the routines and cues they’ve developed for telling their human counterpart something they need or want, and in turn, we accept this as normal communicative behavior between us and our furry family members.
But what you might not know is that owning a pet has been proven beneficial to people’s mental, physical and emotional health. Check out Animal Planet’s Top 5 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet to read the details explaining why an animal a day can keep the doctor away:
- Breathe Easier: Having a pet in the home lowers the risk of developing related allergies by as much as 33%
- Meet and Greet: Animals can act as instant ice breakers in conversation
- Stay Heart Healthy: Pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels–minimizing risks for heart attacks down the road
- Get a Move On: Dogs need exercise so walking them regularly keeps the weight off you as well
- Keep Your Chin Up: Pets provide companionship, boosting feelings of joy and happiness (especially for sick and elderly patients)