A pet or companion animal is an animal kept primarily for a person's company, protection, entertainment, or as an act of compassion such as taking in and protecting a hungry stray cat, rather than as a working animal, livestock, or laboratory animal. Popular pets are often noted for their attractive appearances, intelligence, and relatable personalities, or may just be accepted as they are because they need a home.
Two of the most popular pets are dogs and cats. A cat lover is known as an ailurophile and a dog lover is known as a cynophile. Other animals commonly kept include rabbits; ferrets; pigs; rodents, such as gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, rats, and guinea pigs; avian pets, such as parrots, passerines, and fowl; reptile pets, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes; aquatic pets, such as fish, freshwater and saltwater snails, and frogs; and arthropod pets, such as tarantulas and hermit crabs. Small pets may be grouped together as pocket pets, while the equine and bovine group include the largest companion animals.
Pets provide their owners (or "guardians") both physical and emotional benefits. Walking a dog can provide both the human and the dog with exercise, fresh air, and social interaction. Pets can give companionship to people who are living alone or elderly adults who do not have adequate social interaction with other people. There is a medically approved class of therapy animals, mostly dogs or cats, that are brought to visit confined humans, such as children in hospitals or elders in nursing homes. Pet therapy utilizes trained animals and handlers to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive or emotional goals with patients.
There are approximately 86.4 million pet cats and approximately 78.2 million pet dogs in the United States, and a United States 2007–2008 survey showed that dog-owning households outnumbered those owning cats, but that the total number of pet cats was higher than that of dogs. The same was true for 2011. In 2013, pets outnumbered children four to one in the United States.
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For a small to medium-size dog, the total cost over a dog's lifetime is about $7,240 to $12,700. For an indoor cat, the total cost over a cat's lifetime is about $8,620 to $11,275. People most commonly get pets for companionship, to protect a home or property, or because of the beauty or attractiveness of the animals. The most common reasons for not owning a pet are lack of time, lack of suitable housing, and lack of ability to care for the pet when traveling.
According to the 2007-2008 Pet Owners survey:
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The latest survey done by Colin Siren of Ipsos Reid estimates that there are 7.9 million cats and 5.9 million dogs in Canada. The survey also shows that 35% of Canadian households have a dog, while 38% have a cat, which is consistent with other surveys conducted around the world.
In China, spending on domestic animals has grown from and estimated $3.12 billion in 2010 to $25 billion in 2018. The Chinese people own 51 million dogs and 41 million cats, with pet owners often preferring to source pet food internationally.
A 2007 survey by the University of Bristol found that 26% of UK households owned cats and 31% owned dogs, estimating total domestic populations of approximately 10.3 million cats and 10.5 million dogs in 2006. The survey also found that 47.2% of households with a cat had at least one person educated to degree level, compared with 38.4% of homes with dogs.
According to a survey promoted by Italian family associations in 2009, it is estimated that there are approximately 45 million pets in Italy. This includes 7 million dogs, 7.5 million cats, 16 million fish, 12 million birds, and 10 million snakes.
Keeping animals as pets may be detrimental to their health if certain requirements are not met. An important issue is inappropriate feeding, which may produce clinical effects. The consumption of chocolate or grapes by dogs, for example, may prove fatal.
Certain species of houseplants can also prove toxic if consumed by pets. Examples include philodendrons and Easter lilies (which can cause severe kidney damage to cats) and poinsettias, begonia, and aloe vera (which can sicken or, in extreme cases, kill dogs).
Housepets, particularly dogs and cats in industrialized societies, are also highly susceptible to obesity. Overweight pets have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes, liver problems, joint pain, kidney failure, and cancer. Lack of exercise and high-caloric diets are considered to be the primary contributors to pet obesity.
It is widely believed among the public, and among many scientists, that pets probably bring mental and physical health benefits to their owners; a 1987 NIH statement cautiously argued that existing data was "suggestive" of a significant benefit. A recent dissent comes from a 2017 RAND study, which found that at least in the case of children, having a pet per se failed to improve physical or mental health by a statistically significant amount; instead, the study found children who were already prone to be more healthy (such as white children living in homes rather than apartments) were more likely to get pets in the first place. Unfortunately, conducting long-term randomized trials to settle the issue would be costly or infeasible.
Pets might have the ability to stimulate their caregivers, in particular the elderly, giving people someone to take care of, someone to exercise with, and someone to help them heal from a physically or psychologically troubled past. Animal company can also help people to preserve acceptable levels of happiness despite the presence of mood symptoms like anxiety or depression. Having a pet may also help people achieve health goals, such as lowered blood pressure, or mental goals, such as decreased stress. There is evidence that having a pet can help a person lead a longer, healthier life. In a 1986 study of 92 people hospitalized for coronary ailments, within a year 11 of the 29 patients without pets had died, compared to only 3 of the 52 patients who had pets. Having pet(s) was shown to significantly reduce triglycerides, and thus heart disease risk, in the elderly. A study by the National Institute of Health found that people who owned dogs were less likely to die as a result of a heart attack than those who didn’t own one. There is some evidence that pets may have a therapeutic effect in dementia cases. Other studies have shown that for the elderly, good health may be a requirement for having a pet, and not a result. Dogs trained to be guide dogs can help people with vision impairment. Dogs trained in the field of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) can also benefit people with other disabilities.
People residing in a long-term care facility, such as a hospice or nursing home, may experience health benefits from pets. Pets help them to cope with the emotional issues related to their illness. They also offer physical contact with another living creature, something that is often missing in an elder's life. Pets for nursing homes are chosen based on the size of the pet, the amount of care that the breed needs, and the population and size of the care institution. Appropriate pets go through a screening process and, if it is a dog, additional training programs to become a therapy dog. There are three types of therapy dogs: facility therapy dogs, animal-assisted therapy dogs, and therapeutic visitation dogs. The most common therapy dogs are therapeutic visitation dogs. These dogs are household pets whose handlers take time to visit hospitals, nursing homes, detention facilities, and rehabilitation facilities. Different pets require varying amounts of attention and care; for example, cats may have lower maintenance requirements than dogs.
In addition to providing health benefits for their owners, pets also impact the social lives of their owners and their connection to their community. There is some evidence that pets can facilitate social interaction. Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Leslie Irvine has focused her attention on pets of the homeless population. Her studies of pet ownership among the homeless found that many modify their life activities for fear of losing their pets. Pet ownership prompts them to act responsibly, with many making a deliberate choice not to drink or use drugs, and to avoid contact with substance abusers or those involved in any criminal activity for fear of being separated from their pet. Additionally, many refuse to house in shelters if their pet is not allowed to stay with them.
Health risks that are associated with pets include:
States, cities, and towns in Western nations commonly enact local ordinances to limit the number or kind of pets a person may keep personally or for business purposes. Prohibited pets may be specific to certain breeds (such as pit bulls or Rottweilers), they may apply to general categories of animals (such as livestock, exotic animals, wild animals, and canid or felid hybrids), or they may simply be based on the animal's size. Additional or different maintenance rules and regulations may also apply. Condominium associations and owners of rental properties also commonly limit or forbid tenants' keeping of pets.
The keeping of animals as pets can cause concerns with regard to animal rights and welfare. Pets have commonly been considered private property, owned by individual persons. However, many legal protections have existed (historically and today) with the intention of safeguarding pets' (and other animals') well-being. Since the year 2000, a small but increasing number of jurisdictions in North America have enacted laws redefining pet's owners as guardians. Intentions have been characterized as simply changing attitudes and perceptions (but not legal consequences) to working toward legal personhood for pets themselves. Some veterinarians and breeders have opposed these moves. The question of pets' legal status can arise with concern to purchase or adoption, custody, divorce, estate and inheritance, injury, damage, and veterinary malpractice.
Pets have a considerable environmental impact, especially in countries where they are common or held in high densities. For instance, the 163 million dogs and cats kept in the United States consume about 20% of the amount of dietary energy that humans do and an estimated 33% of the animal-derived energy. They produce about 30% ± 13%, by mass, as much feces as Americans, and through their diet, constitute about 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides. Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for the release of up to 64 ± 16 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses. Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but pet ownership in the US has considerable environmental costs.
While many people have kept many different species of animals in captivity over the course of human history, only a relative few have been kept long enough to be considered domesticated. Other types of animals, notably monkeys, have never been domesticated but are still sold and kept as pets. There are also inanimate objects that have been kept as "pets", either as a form of a game or humorously (e.g. the Pet Rock or Chia Pet).
Domesticated pets are the most common types of pet. A domesticated animal is any animal that has been tamed and made fit for a human environment by being consistently kept in captivity and selectively bred over a long enough period of time that it exhibits marked differences in behavior and appearance from its wild relatives.
Wild animals are kept as pets. The term “wild” in this context specifically applies to any species of animal which has not undergone a fundamental change in behavior to facilitate a close co-existence with humans. Some species listed here may have been bred in captivity for a considerable length of time, but are still not recognized as domesticated.
Generally, wild animals are recognized as not suitable to keep as pets, and this practice is completely banned in many places. In other areas, certain species are allowed to be kept, and it is usually required for the owner to obtain a permit. It is considered animal cruelty by some, as most often, wild animals require precise and constant care that is very difficult to meet in captive conditions. Many large and instinctively aggressive animals are extremely dangerous, and numerous times have they killed their handlers.
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Archaeology suggests that dogs as pets may date back to at least 12,000 years ago.
Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth-century pet keeping in the modern sense gradually became accepted throughout Britain. Initially, aristocrats kept dogs for both companionship and hunting. Thus, pet keeping was a sign of elitism within society. By the nineteenth century, the rise of the middle class stimulated the development of pet keeping and it became inscribed within the bourgeois culture.
As the popularity of pet-keeping in the modern sense rose during the Victorian era, animals became a fixture within urban culture as commodities and decorative objects. Pet keeping generated a commercial opportunity for entrepreneurs. By the mid-nineteenth century, nearly twenty thousand street vendors in London dealt with live animals. Also, the popularity of animals developed a demand for animal goods such as accessories and guides for pet keeping. Pet care developed into a big business by the end of the nineteenth century.
Profiteers also sought out pet stealing as a means for economic gain. Utilizing the affection owner’s had for their pets, professional dog stealers would capture animals and hold them for ransom. The development of dog stealing reflects the increased value of pets. Pets gradually became defined as the property of their owners. Laws were created that punished offenders for their burglary.
Pets and animals also had social and cultural implications throughout the nineteenth century. The categorization of dogs by their breeds reflected the hierarchical, social order of the Victorian era. The pedigree of a dog represented the high status and lineage of their owners and reinforced social stratification. Middle-class owners, however, valued the ability to associate with the upper-class through ownership of their pets. The ability to care for a pet signified respectability and the capability to be self-sufficient. According to Harriet Ritvo, the identification of “elite animal and elite owner was not a confirmation of the owner’s status but a way of redefining it.”
The popularity of dog and pet keeping generated animal fancy. Dog fanciers showed enthusiasm for owning pets, breeding dogs, and showing dogs in various shows. The first dog show took place on 28 June 1859 in Newcastle and focused mostly on sporting and hunting dogs. However, pet owners produced an eagerness to demonstrate their pets as well as have an outlet to compete. Thus, pet animals gradually were included within dog shows. The first large show, which would host one thousand entries, took place in Chelsea in 1863. The Kennel Club was created in 1873 to ensure fairness and organization within dog shows. The development of the Stud Book by the Kennel Club defined policies, presented a national registry system of purebred dogs, and essentially institutionalized dog shows.
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