Exploring the Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond in Veterinary Practice

October 4, 2016
Jenina Pellegren

The bond between humans and their companion animals has been shown to influence the care pets receive. Cultivating the human-animal bond can benefit veterinary practice.

The American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes the human-animal bond (HAB) as a dynamic and mutually beneficial relationship, “essential to the health and well-being of both.”

Officially, AVMA believes, “that the human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.”

The bond between humans and their companion animals has been shown to influence the care pets receive. In a paper exploring opportunities for incorporating HAB into the veterinary practice, authors write, “Owners who have the strongest bond with their pets are more likely to accept healthcare recommendations from their veterinarians, and high bonded owners visit their veterinarian more often and are more likely to seek preventative care.”

To determine the perceptions of HAB among veterinarians, Dr. Francois Martin, PhD, and Anne Taunton, MS, as part of the People-Pet Partnership Program, surveyed 1,602 veterinarians in private practice in the state of Washington. Approximately 26% of veterinarians who responded agreed, “veterinarians will be more successful if they recognize and facilitate the HAB, that facilitating the HAB was important to their practices, that they actively evaluated the degree of bonding between clients and their animals, and that the bonding between a client and his or her animal affected the way they practiced medicine.”

However, approximately 50% of the veterinarians surveyed admitted that they did not train their technicians or front office employees to learn about HAB. Researchers concluded that there is a contrast between how important veterinarians consider HAB to be to their practice and how much communication and training they dedicate to HAB.

There is evidence that supports the benefits of training veterinary students to facilitate HAB. In a paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, authors note, “students who acquire a good understanding of animal behavior will be better clinicians and will be best able to promote and repair the “human—animal bond.”

HAB can be especially beneficial for animals with behavioral problems. Most pet owners have a fulfilling relationship with their pets. However, that’s not always the case; for other pets and their owners, complications can put immense strain on the HAB. This breakdown puts both human and animal in danger of negatively impacting the HAB, which can potentially result in re-homing or relinquishment of pets.

In a conversation with American Veterinarian, Emily Yunker, associate veterinarian at Branchville Animal Hospital in Alabama, explained the role HAB plays in her practice. She said, “Clients want what is best for their pets, they are willing to do research, and spend time and money to achieve that. They want a partner, someone on their side.”

Cultivating the bond clients share with their companion animals could be a way to get on the same side. Yunker concluded, “In short, you need to figure out what they think is wrong and what their goals are and then you try to meet this goal in a way that is best for the pet. I don’t always agree with the client’s goals or even with their definition of the problem but it’s not my job to change their mind. Usually.”

A veterinarian may have different goals for the animal, but exploring ways in which to leverage HAB can help keep pet owners happy and their pets healthy.