Thursday, March 29, 2012

Exploring the Emotional Attachment to your Pet

By Langley Cornwell

There is no relationship that equals the attachment we have to our pets. I’m not saying the attachment is better or worse than the attachment we have with humans; I’m just saying we form a bond with the animals in our lives that cannot be duplicated with another human. I can wax on and on about the strength of the connection I feel with my pets, as I’m sure you can too. But have you ever really analyzed the emotional attachment you have with them?    

According to a study compiled from the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 33% of U.S. householders own at least one cat, and 39% own at least one dog. In truth, I thought the numbers would be higher. Even so, most everyone has lived with a pet at some point in their lives and during that time, they’ve certainly formed some type of attachment with the pet.

An article in Psychology Today looks at ‘attachment theory’ and applies that concept to humans and their pets. They say that pets are the perfect object of a human’s attachment because they are affectionate and easily accessible to anyone. As I understand it, there are several types of attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In human-to-human interaction, attachment theory postulates that people adopt a style of relating to the important people in their lives based on their relationship with their primary caregiver when they were a child. What’s interesting is this concept of attachment extends to our pets.

The Psychology Today write-up cites a series of studies conducted by researchers Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, and Shaver. In the study, the researchers asked pet owners and previous pet owners a series of yes/no questions from their ‘Pet Attachment Questionnaire.’ They were able to get a variety of responses; out of all the people that answered the questionnaire, three-quarters of the participants had dogs and the rest had cats.

Here is a sampling of the questions:

• I'm worried about what I'll do if something happens to my pet.
• I feel that my pet doesn't allow me to get as close as I would like it to
• Without acts of affection from my pet, I feel worthless
• I am worried about being left alone without my pet
• I need a lot of reassurance from my pet that he/she loves me
• Being close to my pet is not important to me
• I prefer not to be too close to my pet
• Often my pet is a nuisance to me
• I am not very attached to my pet

I bet you can determine which style (secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment) is associated with which question.

Attachment style can vary by attachment objects so you might have one style of attachment to one of your dogs and a different style of attachment to your other dog. Likewise, you can have one style of attachment to one of your cats and a different style of attachment to your other cat or one style of attachment to a particular dog and another style of attachment to a particular cat. The point is, the finer details of your relationship varies per animal.

The thing I liked about researching this topic was the statement that “the attachment we have toward our pets, in and of itself, is an important feature of our psychological life.” The study goes on to say that pet attachment seems to play an important role in overall mental health.

I’m glad the subject has been investigated, but I didn’t need a fancy study to tell me that!

Dog photo by Jim Larson
Cat photo by Sage Ross

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. No, none of us needs a study to know that pet attachment plays a key role, at least for some of us, in our mental health.

    I do have a different style of attachment between cats, yet still feel more attached to them than I do to my biological family (parents, no siblings). :-)

    But while my attachment to my cats, and to two horse soulmates when I was younger, is very strong, that attachment also comes with many moments of frustration, as well as much paranoia around their health.

    But let's face it, our four-legged companions are the only ones we'll ever love unconditionally, I think. (Though I'm not a mother to human children, so perhaps that bond also is unconditional for some.) So our attachment to non-human Beings is more pure in many ways, IMO.

  2. I wish that some of the questions did not presuppose a relationship based on the humans clinginess and neediness. I love all of my pets, suffer terribly when they are sick or gone but my self worth etc etc is not tied up in them.

  3. I would think the number of households with pets would be higher as well. I liked this article, thanks!

  4. It is just too bad that all people that have animals don't really care about them. I totally think our attachment to animals is really a good thing. Sure tops being attached to humans in my opinion. Great post.

  5. You're right, Langley. Who needs a fancy study to tell us that pets play an important role in our well being? :)

  6. I like what meowmeowmans said. That sums it up beautifully.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...