Is Being An Animal Lover in Your Genes?

Margaret and Carl

One of the long-asked questions regarding people and their pets is “Are animal people born that way or are they made?”

My family is full of dog lovers. And I have told my kids to choose partners that love dogs. It says a lot about a person. I don’t trust people who don’t love dogs!

As I detailed in my book DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS, I grew up around animals, so a world full of pets is the very definition of normal for me. Realizing that there are actually some people in our world who don’t have the animal-love gene, or whatever it may be called, does strike me as odd. Though, of course, those people wouldn’t most likely be reading my blog.

And if pet ownership is an indicator, both in this country and abroad, we really do love our pets. According to the 2017-18 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68% of U.S. households, that’s about 85 million families, own a pet. This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. [source]

NUMBER OF U.S. HOUSEHOLDS THAT OWN A PET
By Type of Animal (millions)
TOTAL NUMBER OF PETS OWNED IN THE U.S.
By Type of Animall (millions)
Pet Type Number Pet Type Number
Dog 60.2 Freshwater fish 139.3
Cat 47.1 Cat 94.2
Freshwater fish 12.5 Dog 89.7
Bird 7.9 Bird 7.9
Small animal 6.7 Saltwater fish 18.8
Reptile 4.7 Small animal 14.0
Horse 2.6 Reptile 9.4
Saltwater fish 2.5 Horse 7.6

Source: American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey

So where does our human desire for the company of animals originate? According to some theorists, genetics play an important part and that influence goes back tens of thousands of years and has played an important part in our evolution. And this may also explain why some people find the love of animals so ingrained  in their psyche and others just don’t see the big deal. [source]

Studies have found that kids who were raised with pets tend to keep pets as adults. Further, adults tend to stick with the type of pet they grew up with. According to Dr. Kristen Jacobsen of the University of Chicago and based on findings of research on over 1,000 male identical and fraternal twins as part of the part of the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging, our affinity for animals as we grow up is a result of both genetic influences and situational factors.

“Factors like living in the same house, eating the same food, and playing with the same pets constitute what behavior geneticists call shared environment. These factors tend to make siblings alike. In contrast, idiosyncratic events that kids experience like having different kindergarten teachers or being bitten by dog tend to make siblings different from each other. These are called non-shared environment.” [source]

One of the big surprises of the Vietnam Era Twin Study was that shared environment had virtually no influence on the frequency that the people played with pets. In regards to interacting with companion animals, non-shared environment and random factors are considerably more important than genes. This explained 70% of differences in playing with pets. According to the results, being raised in “pet friendly” family has surprisingly little impact on how people interact with companion animals when they grow up. [source]

Now the question of how the human affinity for keeping pets evolved relies on an investigation of the DNA of today’s domesticated animals. Research reveals that each species separated from its wild counterpart between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, in the late Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, which coincides with when humans started breeding livestock. [source]

Furthermore, while the “genes that promote pet-keeping may be unique to humans, but they are not universal, suggesting that in the past some societies or individuals – but not all – thrived due to an instinctive rapport with animals.”

Anthrozoology (aka “human–non-human-animal studies” or HAS) deals with the positive effects of human-animal relationships on either party and the study of their interactions. Human-animal interaction (HAI) encompasses the human-animal bonds developing from pet ownership, uses of animals for recreation (such as horseback riding), animal husbandry, and therapeutic settings.

For those readers who really want to delve into this topic, suggest learning more about Anthrozoology, although if there is a Cliff Notes version, I am all for it. “Anthrozoology (also known as human–non-human-animal studies, or HAS) is the subset of ethnobiology that deals with interactions between humans and other animals. It is an interdisciplinary field that overlaps with other disciplines including anthropology, ethnology, medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine and zoology. A major focus of anthrozoologic research is the quantifying of the positive effects of human-animal relationships on either party and the study of their interactions. It includes scholars from fields such as anthropology, sociology, biology, history and philosophy.” [source]

“Human-animal interaction (HAI) is the term used to encompass the human-animal bonds developing from pet ownership, uses of animals for recreation (such as horseback riding), animal husbandry, and therapeutic settings.” [source]

The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthrozoology - by John Bradshaw

The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthrozoology
by John Bradshaw

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