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Knowing Your Pets

It is easy to understand why we treat our pets as members of the family. We invite them into our homes, feed and groom them, and take them to the vet when they are not well. Our pets have feelings and emotions, and many are similar to our own.

But these furry members of the family differ from us in important ways. We must respect our dogs and cats as species that are unique and fascinatingly different from us and from each other, not simply as people in furry disguise. Some of the medical and many of the behavioral problems I see each day in clinical practice as a veterinarian are consequences of people forgetting what dogs and cats really are.

Getting to know your pet will likely help you improve your cat or dog’s health and behavior, and you might even learn a little about yourself.

A pet’s perspective

We would like to treat our pets as we would treat other people, but dogs or cats don’t think the way we do. We assume that what we like, they like. We like chocolate so our dogs should like chocolate—but chocolate is poisonous to dogs. We like chilling out and doing nothing, and we think dogs should be content to go bleary-eyed in front of the television too—but dogs need outdoor time and mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy and happy.

Uncharacteristic behavior such as accidents by a housebroken cat or dog might become less mysterious if you look at things from a pet’s perspective. Cats do not like other cats the way people like other people. Your cat could feel threatened by another cat in the house. If your cat urinates on the carpet rather than in the litter box, it’s possible that he has a bladder problem, but it also may be because of anxiety caused by a feline newcomer.

Likewise, if your dog pees or poops when left at home, think about the reasons why. She may have a medical condition, but she could also be anxious because she does not want to be left alone. Does your dog look guilty when you get home? She is probably responding to your anger but doesn’t understand why you are angry.

Why we love our animal friends

We can better understand something about ourselves by thinking about why we want pets around.

We humans have a unique lifelong need to nurture, to take care of other living things. Those of us who have children to nurture typically have them in our homes for only about one-third of our lives, but the need to give and receive love lasts throughout our lives. Many people meet this nurturing need with hobbies such as gardening or collecting. A pet fulfills our nurturing need more efficiently than such hobbies because it returns some of our care and affection.

I would like to welcome you all to share your stories...

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