Woman and dog cuddling while sitting at a lookout overlooking valley and mountains.

The human–animal relationship plays a significant role in society, impacting health outcomes for animals, people, and communities.

Family giving their Golden Retriever a bath outside.
Person experiencing homelessness, sitting on ground with their black dog.

Our team has been involved in ground-breaking findings on the significant role of the human–animal relationship in the lives of street-involved youth, being the first to document that street-involved youth with a companion animal benefit from increased structure and routine, and decreased use of drugs.

Furthermore, our research has helped to demonstrate that among street-involved youth, the odds of being depressed was three times greater for youth who did not own a pet. This seminal work has led to an increased awareness among youth service providers of the potential impacts of pet ownership for street-involved youth.

Members of our team have also been involved in research contributing to One Health via the promotion of dog-walking among dog owners, specifically the mutual benefits to physical and mental health for people and animals stemming from this activity as a result of the human–animal relationship. Based on the results of published research*, an educational brochure was developed to promote regular dog-walking. The brochure is designed for use by veterinary educators working with veterinary students and by veterinarians looking to initiate a conversation with dog-owning clients to support regular dog-walking, thereby reducing the risk of disease and protecting the human–animal relationship. (Click on images below to expand brochure.)

*This brochure is the result of a 2017 research study done by Dr. Jason Coe in collaboration with Julia Campbell and Dr. John Dwyer.

Other examples of our past involvement in research focusing on the role of the human–animal relationship in society include pet relinquishment and positive pet behaviour. Currently, the RCVM@OVC team is examining the impact of a facility-dog who is trained to support the well-being of staff in a human healthcare setting. Together, the breadth in this program of research illustrates how the human–animal relationship benefits One Health and society.

Within veterinary medicine, the human–animal relationship lies at the centre of the context in which care takes place. This relationship must be understood and considered when developing a treatment plan that will optimize outcomes. The practice of contextualized care supports a relationship-centred approach to veterinary medicine, where various aspects that factor into an animal’s care are considered in collaboration with the client, including their life circumstances, preferences, barriers, and particularly their relationship with their pet.

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Communication strategies and tools involved in delivering contextualized care continue to be a primary area of focus for the RCVM@OVC research team

The RCVM@OVC team is using a contextualized-care approach to study the role of the human–animal relationship in various veterinary outcomes. One direction our team is working on involves the evaluation of a shared-decision-making tool which provides veterinary professionals with a way of organizing and presenting diagnostic or treatment options to clients, addressing the advantages and disadvantages of each, approximating the cost, and promoting a shared decision-making process that draws on both veterinarian and client expertise, including the client’s perspective on how their relationship with their pet factors into the decision-making process.

Consideration of the human–animal relationship in the prevention and management of pet obesity is another primary area of focus within the RCVM@OVC research program

Pet obesity is a modern-day epidemic for companion animals, posing a direct threat to the human–animal relationship by contributing to numerous health problems and shortening a pet’s lifespan.

To mitigate this significant problem, the RCVM@OVC team continues to build on our understanding of the role of human factors in addressing pet obesity, from both a risk-factor perspective and a motivating-factor perspective leading to positive actions to prevent or manage pet obesity. Our team has also developed a Continuing-Education intervention program to support veterinary professionals’ conversations with clients about obesity prevention and management. The results of this avenue of our research program are expected to contribute to improved health outcomes and longevity for companion animals, thus protecting the human–animal relationship.

Interested in learning more about the Human–Animal Relationship?

To read selected publications on the Human–Animal Relationship by Dr. Coe and other members of the RCVM@OVC team, please visit our Publications page, as well as our Resources page.

“When veterinary professionals take the time to get to know the factors that matter to a client and their pet, particularly pertaining to their human-animal bond, they invest in building a foundation from which to develop a treatment plan with the client that is relevant and more likely to be successful.”
Dr. Kirsten Blokland, PhD