Anthropomorphism and it impact on pet health care


Anthropomorphism – I remember this word being a topic of debate while I was in veterinary school. There were veterinary students debating with a professor discussing on how we should treat food animals and this came up. This is because many  of these  animals are not viewed as companion animals.This was a struggle for many students since food animals require veterinary medicine also. Anthropomorphism also has an impact on our pets health care. Anthropomorphism by definition is an attribution of human traits, and emotions to animals. In many ways it can have a positive effect for those pets who need veterinary care. But in other ways, it can work against pets when it comes to healthcare. There is also the opposite of anthropomorphism. This is when pets are just regarded as property which almost always is negative for pets. So what positive effects does anthropomorphism have on pet health care? What are the negative effects? How does this compare to pets who are regarded as property?

Anthropomorphism and it positive impact on pet health care

As a veterinarian, I am always pleased when an owner makes it clear that their pet is a part of the family.  This is reflected in their attitude, their emotions, and what care they will provide to their pets. It is not always about how much they spend on their pet’s health care. It is the willingness to do what is necessary to provide their best care for the pets. This may mean putting money aside or investing in pet insurance, or taking time to discuss treatment alternatives when the best care is not affordable.

When Anthropomorphism has a negative impact on pet health care

In my years of experience as a veterinarian there are two main issues that occur that relates to anthropomorphism being negative. Both have to do with misinterpretation of pets feelings or behavior. This especially becomes a concern when owners are trying to interpret whether their pet is experiencing pain. There are some owners who expect pets to exhibit signs of pain the exact same way they do. As a result , owners may ignore exhibition of pain from their pets if they are not literally “crying”. Therefore they will often not seek veterinary care for them.

The other issue I have written about in the past in the article “Can You Love Your Pet Too Much“. This is when owners have such a strong emotional attachment to their pets that it can lead to irrational decisions regarding their health care. Some examples could include not recognizing when a pet is suffering because of the guilt to keep a patient alive despite a debilitating condition. This could also involve pursuing treatments for medical conditions that are obviously terminal.  Another problem is that some pet owners may get so desperate they may seek dangerous home remedies to treat their pets.

Pets as property and its impact on pet health care

Even though we would like to think everyone that owns a pet thinks of them as family, unfortunately that is not the case. I frequently encounter owners who don’t want to spend more on healthcare for their pet than they have spent on the pet themselves. So their choice of treatment mainly focuses on how it will benefit them vs the pet itself. Often their mantra is why pay the cost of healthcare when the money can be used to replace a pet.

Final thoughts

As you can see your attitude toward your pets can go a long way in determining what type of care they receive. Having a genuine interest in the well- being of your pet will have the best outcome for them. Extremes on either side can be negative and lead to harm for your pet. So balanced emotions and attitudes are important for the welfare of your pet.

2 thoughts on “Anthropomorphism and it impact on pet health care

  1. The title of your post intrigued me. Reading it I can imagine you get a whole range of experiences as a vet professional, with a whole range of different types of people. I totally agree with you, balanced emotions and attitudes are very important to the welfare of our pets. They are also very important to our own welfare. As pet owners we typically invest a lot of emotion and feelings in the welfare of our animals, its an important roles they play in our lives. Often we can put their needs before our own. You reminded me of a time when I was sitting in my vets waiting room once and listening to a mother and daughter as they took advice from the vet about their West Highland terrier’s weight. They were clearly concerned that they were doing the best for their dog. The reason it struck me was because the two lady owners were themselves heavily over-weight and putting all their concern onto their pet. Maybe that sort of situation occurs because we hold the belief that we are valued more if we care for others than if we care for ourselves?

    • Thanks for your comment Joanne. I agree there can be concern when owners put the needs for their pets above their own. Even though the pet will immediately benefit, in the long run there may be a consequence for both pet and owners alike.

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