role of pets in the family system

New research is being done on the value of healthcare providers asking their patients about their pets. This is very exciting to see, as it’s something I’ve found great value in.

“If primary care practitioners – physicians, nurse practitioners, and social workers – just ask patients about pets in their families, a whole new world of patient care is open to them,” said Dr. Kate Hodgson, co-investigator of the study, veterinarian and Certified Continuing Medical Education Professional. “Pets can build social capital, motivate healthy behavior change, catalyze harm reduction, and even participate in a patient’s treatment plan.”

(When Doctors Ask About Pets, Good Things Happen)

I am intrigued by the human-animal bond. Sometime in the course of my work with patients, I will inquire about pets. I am interested in hearing about childhood pets as well as current day pets as I have found that pets play a significant role in the family system.

Pets consistently provide something that human caregivers cannot. Companion animals, in particular dogs and cats, provide unconditional love. This is hugely significant in homes where the parents are emotionally unavailable or abusive. The pets can be the steady, consistent provider of love, affirmation, and acceptance, something every child needs.

I routinely ask people to tell me their life stories and often they are shared with little emotional connection. However, when I ask about their pets, and they come alive – their face lights up with intense emotion;  joy, love, delight and other times sadness and grief. When I see this response, I feel tremendous hope, as this tells me that they know emotional-intimacy, they have experienced it. I kind of see emotional-intimacy like a language, the person may be fluent in the companion animal dialect but now needs to learn the human dialect.

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