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Why Some of Us Decide to Treat Our Pets Like Children, and Why Specialists Are Warning Us to Stop

The term “fur baby” appeared not very long ago, and since then it’s started gaining traction. Traditional families are changing. In 2012, 40% of women didn’t have kids. But we still need someone to love, so people are choosing their pets as family members and they have started treating them like their babies. The research showed that even the brain chemistry is similar to traditional parenting.

We at Bright Side tried to figure out why experts aren’t happy about this trend and how to change it.

What does it mean to treat a pet like a child?

While for most people the concept of parenting is about human-to-human interaction, the amount of pet parents is growing. Some people start to apply traditional parenting practices to their pets. While some parents are aware that animals’ and kids’ needs are different, others raise their pet as if it were their child. Here are a few stories to illustrate this better:

  • A year ago, I adopted my son, Odin. He’s a 2-year-old mountain feist terrier. This dog, my son, has been through so much with us. Never did he seem unhappy. He was with his family. When the marriage went south and I sent my husband back to Tennessee, Odin stayed. I knew he missed his dad, but it was just the 2 of us... Karrmah / reddit
  • I have a cat, so a few people wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I know they were just trying to be nice, but I don’t need or want to be included in this Mother’s Day stuff. I’m not a mom and that’s totally fine! LiveYourDaydreams / reddit

Why it’s happening?

People worry that they don’t have enough time or money for kids. Since the cost of raising kids is getting higher, couples can increase their intimacy by getting a pet they can mutually care for. Some people even value their pets more than the romantic relationship itself. Besides that, pet parenting offers more freedom and fewer sacrifices and expenses. Of course, pets still require work and attention, but you can leave them while you’re at work, and the same cannot be said for a child.

Pet’s basic needs are different from kid’s needs.

In attempts to make our 4-legged babies happier by treating them with snacks that are often highly saturated with fats and sugar, we might be putting their lives in danger. Let’s take a common treat like ice cream, which is loved by both humans and fur babies. Apart from the negative effects of sugar, owners might not know that the dog is lactose intolerant or that they may have an allergy to dairy products, which can lead to digestive problems.

Treating them like kids can be life-threatening.

Affectionate behavior, such as kissing your pets, is also likely to do more harm than good. When kissing them, pets get human bacteria, and we get bacteria from the pets. Research has shown that it increases the risk of medicine becoming ineffective for both pets and humans, putting all of us in danger. While the human-animal bond is important, kissing surely isn’t the best option to make it stronger.

Looking at problematic behavior as if the animal were a person may lead to even more problems.

A dog behaviorist says that treating your pet like a human is the worst thing you can do for them. They don’t need “mommy and daddy,” they need a leader. And problematic behavior shouldn’t be seen as cute. For example, when the pet is aggressive toward strangers, it isn’t funny, the pet isn’t just being cute and protective, it’s a potential problem that needs to be solved.

Owners also should be careful not to project human behavior on animals. For example, researchers have found that common behavioral problems in cats don’t mean that they’re just being naughty, it’s often a sign of separation anxiety.

Pet parents might force animals to do things that they don’t want to do.

If we talk about animals’ body language, being grabbed on their body is usually a sign that they’re being attacked. So something as simple as a hug is usually not welcome by pets (but, of course, there are some exceptions). And while trimming claws and dressing animals during bad weather are sometimes necessary, things like claw painting and dressing them in fancy clothes and accessories aren’t improving the pet’s quality of life, and they do nothing more than please the pet parent.

Bonus: We asked Bright Siders to share what they think

Anastasia: I think that the human-dog relationship as a child-parent relationship is absolutely natural. Four-legged friends are family members, and owners love them like they are their own kids. They are just like babies, demanding love, parenting, and help. While kids grow up and move out, your pets will always be your little babies.

Janan: Personally, I totally get it. We have a Turkish Van named Falek, and my husband and I have a weekly “date” where we make “cat burgers” for him. He only eats raw meat, which basically means poultry that we put through a meat grinder, powdered vitamins, a little water. I literally don’t even do this amount of work for myself when I am making meals. But Falek loves his cat burgers, so... We’ve become cat-centric chefs.

John: My dog is surely a member of our family, but I would never call her my baby, or treat her like one. I love her with all my heart, but I’m the owner, not daddy.

Do you know anyone whose baby has whiskers? Do you believe that it’s possible to show animals our love without treating them like kids?

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