For thousands of years, in cultures around the world, people have cared for some animals simply because they like them. People like the looks of some creatures, or the sounds they make. They find that some animals are good company and show attachment to people.
Such animals usually are not expected to work for their keep, nor are they eaten. They are considered "pets," a word that appeared in the English language as early as the 1600s.
Keeping a pet involves a number of practices. These include providing an animal with special food, playing with it, allowing it to live in the house or to sit on a lap or a shoulder, and caring for it when it is sick. Most, but not all, pets have names.
In the past, people made pets of animals found in their local environments, but an animal from a faraway place was sometimes both a pet and a status symbol.
Today, the animals that Americans live with as companions, sources of interest and pleasure, and objects of beauty have originated from almost every continent.
While in theory any animal might be a pet, in practice only a small number of species of mammals (especially dogs and cats) and other small animals, such as birds, fish, or lizards, are practical. One reason for this is that large animals are not able to fit inside small dwellings.
A few animals are sufficiently capable of adapting to human interaction to be considered domesticable. Dogs ("man's best friend") are considered to be a classic example of domesticated animals normally suited to being pets.
Pets 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. Having a pet may help people achieve health goals, such as lowered blood pressure, or mental goals, such as decreased stress. There appears to be strong evidence that having a pet can help a...