Are We Harming Pets by Treating Them Like Humans?

Are We Harming Pets by Treating Them Like Humans?

Pets have never been more popular, with two-thirds of American homes now owning at least one pet. However, as our pets become more like family members, concerns are growing among experts about the unintended consequences of humanizing them too much.

Growing Concerns

The trend of treating pets like humans is evident in the booming pet industry, where owners spare no expense on customized nutrition plans, luxury accommodations, and even therapeutic services like dog hydrotherapy. Yet, this anthropomorphism may be limiting pets’ natural behaviors and independence, leading to health and behavioral issues.

James Serpell, an ethics and animal welfare expert, points out that while pets are cherished as family, they are fundamentally different from children. The increasing protection and restriction imposed on pets may hinder their ability to express their innate behaviors freely.

Changing Dynamics

Historically, pets enjoyed more freedom, roaming outdoors and having more autonomy. Today, safety concerns and urban lifestyles have confined many pets indoors or limited them to controlled environments like strollers and leashes. This shift has contributed to rising cases of separation anxiety, aggression, and obesity among pets.

Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist, highlights the paradox: “Owners want pets to behave like humans, but this may not align with what’s best for the animals.”

Consequences of Intensive Pet Ownership

The intensification of pet ownership has economic and emotional costs. Veterinary bills, pet care services, and the burden of constant supervision can strain owners. This pressure sometimes leads to pets being abandoned, exacerbating euthanasia rates in shelters.

“Obsession with pets has reached unprecedented levels,” Pierce observes. “It’s unsustainable for both pets and owners.”

Ethical Dilemmas

The debate extends to ethical considerations. Some countries are instituting bans on breeding certain dog breeds prone to health issues, while others restrict practices like crating and prolonged isolation. These measures aim to balance animal welfare with human desires but pose ongoing challenges in modern pet keeping.

Harold Herzog, a psychology professor specializing in animal-human relations, questions the ethical justification of owning pets: “As we acknowledge animals’ autonomy, our traditional roles as pet owners may need reevaluation.”

Looking Ahead

Amidst these concerns, experts advocate for a balanced approach that respects pets’ natural needs and behaviors. Understanding pets from their perspective, rather than imposing human expectations, is crucial for fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Enjoy your pet’s companionship,” advises Serpell, “but remember they are not humans. Embrace their unique qualities to enrich both their lives and yours.”

The future of pet ownership may hinge on finding this equilibrium between affection and respect for animals’ inherent natures.


Published on June 22, 2024. Updated on June 25, 2024.

Reena McElroy Avatar
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