This article is written by Dr. Han Zi Yang, Co-Founder of VetTrust Singapore, which aims to raise the animal health and welfare standards in Singapore and the region by providing veterinary consulting help and solutions to animal-related businesses.
What is the human-animal bond?
The human-animal bond has been well-recognised by organisations worldwide as “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviours essential to the health and wellbeing of both.” This bond is most recognised between pets and owners, but also exists between farmers and their livestock, and even nature-lovers and wildlife.
Human being’s interest in animals and other living creatures can be described by the term “biophilia”, which highlights humans' natural affinity towards other living things and the natural environment. The human-animal relationship is continuously evolving and probably started off as a working one, when humans started domesticating animals as livestock and dogs were used for hunting and protection. Overtime, we see that the roles of animals have evolved, with many becoming companions and seen as an essential part of the family.
Why is it so important?
There are many research that have proven the benefits of pet ownership and this is best summarised by the top 5 benefits according to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute:
- Alleviate stress
- Fights Depression
- Address social isolation and loneliness
- Improve physical fitness and encourage activity
- Facilitate healing and resiliency
Perhaps these effects are felt more deeply as we go through this pandemic, where owners are spending more time at home with their pets. The comfort and companionship provided by our pets as we work and study from home have provided many owners the opportunity to understand their pets better and thereby deepening their bond.
The human-animal bond is not limited to pet owners. Even observing wildlife from afar can bring about a sense of content and inspiration about the beauty and complexity of nature. This is why activities such as nature walks, bird watching and intertidal walks have becoming more popular in Singapore. Apart from the relaxing and calming effect of being in nature, the sense of discovery and close-up observation of another living being is irreplaceable by any technology or media entertainment.
Where do vets come in on the animal-human bond?
As veterinarians, we play a role in facilitating and maximising this relationship between humans and animals. Apart from treating animals to help them feel better, a large part of our job is on educating owners. Being well-informed and educated about your pet’s needs is the fundamental duty of being a responsible pet owner. Without a good knowledge of what is required to keep your pet healthy and what it needs to lead an enriched and meaningful life, the “human-animal bond” would be hard to forge between pets and owners.
The Fundamentals to Caring for your Pet's Health
When it comes to pet health matters, there are many things for pet owners to learn, but there are a few fundamentals which all owners should know about.
1. Routine veterinary checks
Even if your pet looks seemingly healthy, it is still recommended that your pet goes for at least a yearly routine health check. Similar to how humans are advised to go for yearly full-body check-up, a yearly routine checks at the vets will help pick up any early signs of diseases, which may be missed by even the most observant owners. Some species like birds are very good at hiding their illnesses as this is a natural defence in the wild to protect themselves from predation. Since our pets cannot “speak” to us on where they may be feeling unwell, a yearly veterinary check therefore provides an important snapshot to ascertain the health status of the animal. Even if the check-up does not yield any significant health concerns, the results of it provide valuable baseline information for veterinarians to compare with, the next time the pet falls ill or as the pet ages.
Many of us would be familiar with the term vaccination by now, and how it is an important tool to protect ourselves from contagious and deadly diseases. Similarly, vaccination has been used by veterinarians for hundreds of years to protect animals from diseases. Just like how a human child needs to receive a series of vaccines in his or her early stages of life, young puppies and kittens also require their own sets of vaccination to help protect them during this vulnerable period as their immune system is still maturing. As they grow and enter adulthood, our pets will need to receive booster vaccinations (usually yearly or 3-yearly, depending on the vaccine and health status of the animal) to ensure that they stay protected for the rest of their lives. As the disease prevalence status in every country is different, veterinarians in Singapore have come together to publish the inaugural “Singapore Vaccination Guidelines for Dogs and Cats” in 2020. The aim of the guidelines is to help pet owners understand more about pet vaccinations and the requirements suited to the local disease context. By ensuring their pet is up-to-date with vaccinations, owners are essentially protecting their pets from diseases that can be very difficult and costly to treat.
3. Parasite Prevention
Parasites are another “invisible enemy” of our pets. Many of the parasites like fleas, mites, intestinal worms would require special tools and microscopes to examine them, hence they are often “well-hidden” in our animals, until our pets start developing clinical signs such as scratching. Even if the animal does not leave the household, it can still be susceptible to parasite infections as parasites can be brought home by owner on their clothing and shoes. Some deadly parasites like the heartworm can also be spread via mosquitoes. Thankfully, there are many safe and convenient parasite prevention products in the market. Many of these products comes in the form of a monthly pill or application onto the animal’s skin. Often times, pets come into the clinic with a parasite infection due to owners “forgetting” or not following through with the routine parasite prevention. This is a risky behaviour as it exposes the pet to unnecessary infection risk, which reduces their quality of life (e.g. persistent itch due to mites) or can even be deadly (e.g. heartworm).
Build the human-animal bond by staying informed
As humans, many of us are drawn towards nature and the wonderful living creatures that we share this world with. As pet owners, there is an added responsibility to stay educated about what it takes to provide and care for their pet. Being able to understand the needs of our pets, and providing above and beyond what it takes for them to lead a good quality of life is a rewarding experience and is a journey that dedicated owners enjoy due to the strong human-animal bond that they experienced with their furry companions.
Dr. Han Zi Yang
BVSc (Honours), UniMelb
About the writer: Who is Dr. Han?
As a veterinarian, I am in a very privileged position to work closely with animals as well as the people that takes care of them. My work has exposed me to diverse segments of the animal sector, from agriculture, to pets, community animals, public health, international trade and even wildlife. I have now started my own veterinary consultancy firm, VetTrust Singapore, with the aim of helping raise the animal health and welfare standards in Singapore and the region by providing veterinary consulting help and solutions to animal-related businesses.