Is it a mistake to “humanize” our pets?
In our society today, fewer people actually interact face-to-face with each other and are now more likely to communicate online. Because our social connections are becoming more impersonal, perhaps it’s only natural that people may look to their pets to fill this void, often treating them more like little people. The truth is, I’m not totally sure how I feel about this. There is a part of me that really enjoys seeing a dog dressed in a sweater or raincoat, or a cat with her own weekly blog. PetMeds employee, Abby, writes a blog for her Devon Rex cat, Daisy, which has many readers that get pleasure each week from reading about Daisy’s interactions with her troublemaker roommate, Harley (“the maniac.”) Our pets are part of the family, and there is nothing more entertaining than a beloved pet exhibiting human-like traits that we can ourselves identify with. Counting, reading, dressing up, obeying complex commands, flushing the toilet, and so many other human traits that we get our pets to “perform” do bring us great joy because it taps into something in our soul that finds humor when an animal acts like a human. There are times, however, when it’s important for a pet to be treated like the animal he or she truly is.
My close friend Ayla called me yesterday to let me know that she is bringing her family to Florida and would be visiting us in a few weeks. Ayla then began discussing the recent tragic events in Nepal. She went on to tell me about her own experience back in 2010 when she herself had to survive a tremendous earthquake in Elazığ. She wanted more than anything else to tell me how her dog had become visibly agitated over an hour before the earthquake, and started running around the house in a reckless manner. She said that she had never seen her dog behaving like that before and because he was running around so fast and jumping on everything, she moved her crystal vase into a secure lower cabinet. If she had not done that she would have certainly found that vase in a hundred pieces after the quake. This experience made her a believer in the ability of animals to predict certain events that humans may be unaware of. She went on to describe to me how similar experiences have occurred during tsunamis and even hurricanes.
Detecting earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis are not the only things that our pets may be able to sense or predict. Many people swear by their pets’ ability to sense when they are in a bad mood, and even describe how their pets “console” them during times of stress or sadness. These abilities make me wonder about whether these are extra senses that pets have, or something else that differentiates them from what we consider normal human senses. Will putting my dog Duke in a sweater take away his ability to become a furry seismograph, a fortune teller, or a therapist? Certainly not, but the more we keep humanizing our pets year after year, it’s possible we may eventually dull the natural talents that we really know so little about.
As my cat is learning how to flush the toilet, he may not be honing in his sense of smell that may one day detect a gas leak or even detect a streptococcal infection resistant to common antibiotics early enough so it can be treated properly. Sound far-fetched? Maybe, but I do have a great amount of admiration and respect when I see an animal using his or her unique talents to do something positive.
What else do we risk when we “humanize” our pets? We probably risk them beginning to get diseases that, as a pet, they probably should not be getting. I’ve seen steadily increasing numbers of pets suffering from depression, sleep deprivation, obsessive disorders, and similar conditions. I didn’t do a study to evaluate the relationship between pet diseases and human disease, but it seems like more pets than usual are developing the exact same conditions as their owners. It’s not uncommon for a pet owner to stop off at a human pharmacy to pick up some fluoxetine for their depression and call us when they get home to order fluoxetine for their dog for whom the veterinarian prescribed the same medication!
What do I suggest with this whole article? I believe that loving our pets with all our hearts and treating them as family members is a wonderful feeling, and our empathy and compassion is good for our pets; however, we must remember, they are not human. There are certain things we can do that we can’t expect our pets to do, and as well there are other talents that our pets have that we lack. Let’s appreciate our differences and benefit from them.
As always, it’s important to remember that if your pet becomes ill or is acting differently, the best thing you can do to keep them healthy and happy is to take them for a checkup with the veterinarian. Your veterinarian is an important part of your pet’s team, and can diagnose the condition that is making your pet ill and prescribe the correct medication for that condition. Don’t be surprised, however, if one day your veterinarian looks carefully into your dog’s eyes then without saying a word moves quickly to find an earthquake-safe location in his office!
Also remember that another good source of medication information is your 1800PetMeds pharmacist who is available to answer your medication related questions.