Critter Culture
Pet Connections in Different Cultures

Pet Connections in Different Cultures

Critter Culture Staff



The notion of pets as family members is deeply ingrained in many Western societies, particularly in the U.S. and Canada. In these cultures, it's common to see pets pampered and treated with the same care and affection one would give to a human child. This sentiment is echoed by Alan Siskind, publisher of the online magazine Dog News Daily, who notes, "We've started to celebrate the humanization of pets." But is this sentiment universal? The answer is complex and varies from culture to culture. While there may not be a global standard for how pets are treated, evidence suggests that the human-animal bond is a widespread phenomenon that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. From the bustling streets of Tokyo, where cats are considered good luck, to the rural landscapes of Africa, where birds like the honeyguide are cherished, the love for pets is a universal human experience that invites further exploration.


Is love for pets a universal human value?

Researchers who study human-animal relationships say that many people around the world treat their pets with love and devotion. They consider them members of the family who can be depended upon for companionship. However, this sentiment isn't universal. As one cultural anthropologist pointed out, "Indeed, there is not even a word in his native language for the category of animals we call pets." This highlights the cultural variations in the concept of "pets" and how they are treated. In some areas, humans even nurse vulnerable animals, such as abandoned piglets. This nurturing behavior is not just a modern trend; it has historical roots. Ancient civilizations like the Romans and Greeks also had a deep affection for their pets, often immortalizing them in art and literature.

Woman pet owner cuddling with cat IvanJekic / Getty Images


Changing attitudes about pets in the last century

The way that people around the world think about pets has changed significantly during the last century. Before industrialization, people often saw animals as either food or workers. Working animals were often used to help hunt, plow fields, pull wagons, and carry heavy loads from place to place. Feed animals were raised and cared for so that they could provide milk and meat for families. This utilitarian view has evolved, and today, pets are often seen as emotional support systems, providing psychological benefits like reducing stress and increasing feelings of happiness.

Little Girl with Her Puppy in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada - 1927 powerofforever / Getty Images


Attitudes are much different today

Animals are still used worldwide for work and food, but many are kept as pets, too. This is partially due to the fact that greater access to food and veterinary medications makes it feasible for more people to own pets. Advances in veterinary science have also contributed to this change, making it easier to manage pet health and extend their lifespans.

A young female vet examining a kitten ilkermetinkursova / Getty Images


Did early humans have pets, too?

Archaeologists have found evidence that even early humans had pets. Maybe you remember learning about how Ancient Egyptians revered cats. Or, perhaps you've heard that early man domesticated dogs for companionship and help with hunting and tracking—these animal-human relationships pre-date recorded history. In fact, evidence suggests that the domestication of dogs may have occurred as far back as 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, indicating that the human-animal bond is deeply ingrained in our evolutionary history.

Portrait Of Cat Sitting Against Ancient Egyptian Temple Magove / Getty Images


Animals have meaningful spiritual connections in some cultures

You might already know that animals have spiritual meanings in some cultures. Animals are highly regarded by many indigenous North American people groups. In some Islamic cultures, cats are thought of positively because of a connection with Muhammad. However, as religious scholars note, "In some branches of Islam, for example, dogs are in the category of unclean creatures," showing how religion can influence attitudes toward pets. Some Hindu people consider cattle particularly sacred — many practicing Buddhists and Hindus don't eat meat. This spiritual connection extends beyond just domesticated animals; wild animals like eagles, tigers, and dolphins also hold significant spiritual or symbolic meanings in various cultures.

Senior man walking his dog supersizer / Getty Images


Do people around the world treat pets like human children?

You might hear people call their pets "fur babies" in America. Is that common everywhere? The answer is that it varies significantly from culture to culture. As pet psychologists observe, "The companionship of pets has become much more valuable today," emphasizing that regardless of culture or geography, the emotional connection between humans and their pets remains a universal experience. However, some researchers have noted that treating pets like children tends to be more common in affluent cultures where families can afford to "spoil" their pets. This phenomenon is not just a Western concept; in countries like Japan, pets are often dressed in outfits, and there are even pet-friendly cafes and hotels.

Senior woman cuddling pet cat in kitchen 10'000 Hours / Getty Images


Are pets companions in all cultures?

Pets are companions in many cultures around the world. However, some societies still think of animals more as working helpers than friends. While they value their pets' contributions, they don't necessarily have strong emotional connections with them. Don't worry, though. These pets are still well cared for. In some cultures, the concept of "pet" doesn't even exist in the way it does in Western societies, yet animals are still treated with a level of respect and care that ensures their well-being.

Cooling in the time of meeting SrdjanPav / Getty Images


Understanding pets vs. food in different cultures

Have you ever wondered what makes an animal a pet in one country and food in another? Anthropologists say the answer often lies in what pets a culture considers "loveable." For example, the Maasai in Africa have close relationships with a honeyguide bird. They love and appreciate the bird, so they don't eat it. This concept extends to other animals as well; in some cultures, animals like guinea pigs are kept as pets, while in others, they are a food source.

Young Woman Caring for Cows shironosov / Getty Images


Pet advocates in different cultures

It's important to remember that all cultures have different values regarding the treatment and care of animals. Attitudes and behaviors towards animals that aren't acceptable in some countries are considered fine in others. Despite these cultural differences, you can find pet advocates all around the world. Advocacy groups and individual activists in many countries fight for the rights of animals to be treated with dignity and respect. This global movement towards animal welfare is a testament to the universal human value placed on our animal companions.

Animal Rights Activist Hamster Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images


Does everyone in the world love dogs?

When you think of pets, dogs, and cats are probably the animals that come to mind. Both of these animals are kept as pets in cultures around the world. But did you know that not everyone loves dogs? Dogs were traditionally considered unclean pets by many practitioners of Islam. Some modern Muslim scholars say that dogs make acceptable pets, but others still hold to the traditional belief that they shouldn't be kept in homes. This diversity in attitudes towards dogs is reflective of the broader cultural nuances that shape our relationships with pets.

Full length view of traveler french woman with dog sightseeing at Honfleur harbour canal in France Vera Vita / Getty Images


What pets are most common worldwide?

People around the world keep a surprising variety of animals as pets. Some of the most common pets worldwide include cats, birds, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, snakes, horses, and fish. It probably comes as no surprise that the dog is the most common pet in the world. Thanks to its long history as a hunting helper and companion animal, the dog is still popular in many areas. In some countries, fish are incredibly popular due to their low maintenance and the aesthetic value they add to homes.

pet SolStock / Getty Images


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