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Trends in Pet Ownership

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD
  • Jul 20, 2017, 10:30 AM

To those who do not own pets, have you ever walked into a big-box pet store and browsed the aisles lately? It’s really something to behold.

I do own a pet — a senior cat — and yet I’m still baffled by what I see in some pet stores. Don’t get me wrong: I have always loved animals of all kinds and been a proponent for their humane treatment. But that’s exactly why I believe a line between animal and human ought to be drawn, mainly for the animal’s sake.

When it comes to domesticated dogs, perhaps along the way, we became confused with the word “companion.” I once walked into a pet store with a “baker’s bar” where an employee with an apron was baking “delicious” (her word) treats in the shape of cheesecakes, cookie sandwiches and brownies. I chose to ignore the doggy nail polish stand out of principle. Are we trying to humanize our domestic dogs? I find it hard to believe that a dog would reject a treat because it looked bland and lacked the visual appeal of human treats. We might be seriously confused with whom the treat is intended for. I suppose we could pass it on as a byproduct of crossing consumerism with capitalism.

On a more serious note, the dental health of dogs and cats has become an integral part of veterinary health care these days. When I told my grandmother, who was born in 1924, that cats and dogs have their teeth cleaned and checked for cavities, she laughed out loud and thought it was a joke. She then commented that pets are lucky to have such great dental care. I agreed with mixed emotion, wishing many people would seek good dental care.

All that aside, I’m sure we are all in agreement that owners now seem to be taking their dogs everywhere they go — and it feels like everywhere. It somehow became socially acceptable to have dogs accompany their owners to more than just the dog park. These days, you see dogs in restaurants, cafés, shops and even on airplane flights.

Just as I thought that this is another trend that somehow morphed into a social norm, and one that doesn’t directly affect me, in came a patient with her dog last week. I found myself face-to-face with this issue — in my professional arena and not in a café. To be clear, this was not a service or guide dog, nor was the dog there to provide anxiety relief. It was there because the owner simply didn’t want to leave it at home.  

I have treated many visually impaired patients with guide dogs sitting next to their owners. But those dogs are trained to be there. This dog did not want to be in the dental office and barked and moaned to let everyone know that.

This is where I question how much of an advocate for animals we truly are. We should treat them as the amazing creatures they are and realize the boundary that should exist between animal and human. I know there was a past blog post on pets in the dental office, and that’s a separate discussion on the legalities or hazards of having animals in health care settings. My point is that many pet owners may have misunderstood the concept of caring for an animal or its role in our lives. Dressing them up in human apparel or shuttling them in carriers to the dental office is not my original understanding of “humane.”  

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