Why do people own pets?

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There are many traits that make humans different. While we are basically an animal we are clearly a little bit different. We wear clothes while no other animal chooses to. We know how to make fire. We have the ability to blush and no other animal does. One strange difference that we will focus on today is pets. Humans are the only species that actually keep pets. Why? Read on to find out the leading theories on this strange question.

The reason we first started to keep pets is clear. Wolves were kept as a form of protection thousands of years ago and they slowly evolved into the dogs we know today. Cats were kept to keep rats and other rodents away and they too became domesticated. Back then a pet served a purpose. Today most pets do not serve a clear purpose. While some are useful for protection or some other reason it is rarely the reason for purchasing. So why then do we go to this huge expense of owning a pet if it does nothing for us?

There are a number of theories in place but no consensus. Some think that we have simply evolved the trait of needing pets. While we once needed them for security we are now used to the idea of having them, so still want them. It is an ok theory but when you look at different societies there are very different habits so it doesn’t fully check out.

The obvious answer is that we need pets for affection. We are social animals and the easy access to affection could be why we keep them around. This is the likely explanation but studies have shown that those who own pets don’t report a higher level of happiness or satisfaction than those who don’t. In fact there are many studies that show owning a pet actually makes people suffer mental anxiety more. Perhaps then we own pets to make us happier but it doesn’t actually work?

Another theory is that pets are a signal of wealth. In the past owning a pet was something only those who had a large disposable income could afford. If you owned a pet it showed people that you had some money to spare and helped your social standing. Today pets are still incredibly expensive so it may still be a partial social signal. However, people with a higher disposable income now spend less time at home and therefore owning a pet is increasingly difficult. Perhaps pets will no longer be a sign of wealth in the near future and adoption rates will reduce.
Whatever the reason it is clear that it is not present in all human societies. There are many cultures where animals are treated with cruelty and some places in Africa where the word pet doesn’t exist and the notion is completely alien to them. It is clearly a learned behavior. No other species keeps pets. Chimpanzees were thought to have this ability for a small time but it has become clear that they don’t see inferior as animals as pets but as play things instead. There was one study of chimpanzees who captured a young duiker. They played with it for a while but as time went on their play got rougher and rougher. Eventually they killed the duiker and continued to play with the corpse for another thirty minutes. Certainly not the idea we have of a pet at all.

It is likely that whatever reason we have for keeping pets, it is self serving. Humans do not engage in altruism very often. Studies have shown that we have children and help our family out of some evolutionary need to further our gene. We are rarely nice for the sake of it and the fact that we own pets is likely an attempt to feel something that we are missing. It is not clear what the reason is, what is clear though, is that dogs are cool.