My dog and I have matching pajamas. Blue, with yellow trim and little moons and stars all over. I got hers first and then, later, a pair of my own so that we could be twins. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about how my dog is cared for, right? Or does it?
My dog doesn’t need pajamas. She doesn’t particularly like them. Her life is not richer or healthier and she is not happier because we have matching pajamas. The pajamas are purely for me and my own amusement (and to help promote an event we were doing at the animal shelter). They don’t benefit her at all. The simple fact that we have matching pajamas might indicate that I spoil her a bit, but it says nothing about how I take care of her.
It’s an important distinction. There is spoiling your pet. There is loving them. And there is taking care of them. And it’s completely possible to do one without the other two.
Most people love their pets. But not everyone is able or willing to take care of them. It could be a matter of finances, education, resources, mental or physical ability, or any number of things. But love, while important, is not an adequate substitute for appropriate care.
Spoiling is fun and can be harmless. Do you sometimes take your dog along on car rides if you’re not getting out of the car just because they enjoy it? Does your cat have a huge box full of toys they ignore in favor of dust bunnies and milk rings? Do you celebrate birthdays with pet-friendly cake and ice cream? If so, carry on! Spoiling them is part of the fun of having a pet, especially when you just. Love them. SO MUCH. Me? I’ve had my dog for a year and a half and she has five different collars (one did actually break and one was a gift, but the rest? Just wardrobe). When she comes to work with me, she has fluffy beds in the back of the car, has a stuffed animal for the car, a stuffed animal in my office, and gets to select a stuffed animal from home to take with her. I’m all about spoiling her.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. How about giving table scraps and extra treats? A little extra weight isn’t going to kill them, but a little can quickly turn into a lot and habits can be hard to break. Before you know it, your dog is nearly spherical (not to mention a total menace any time anyone is eating) and you’re still jovially commenting that “he just likes his snacks.” I’m not saying table scraps are straight-up abuse. There are ways to give them while still teaching manners, establishing boundaries, and taking care of your pet’s health. But indiscriminately giving them any food or treat they like whenever they want it because you think it makes them happy? That’s the opposite of taking care of your pet.
There is a point where indulgence and care are at odds and a spoiled pet can, in fact, be a neglected pet. If you’re letting your dog’s nails grow long because they hate having their feet touched and it breaks your heart to see them upset, you’re not doing them a service. If you won’t give them medication because you don’t want them to hate you, is that really something you’re doing for them? Skipping the groomer because they cry when you go might seem kind in the moment, but letting their hair grow long and heavy and painfully matted so they don’t have to endure the indignity of a haircut is not something that will make them happier or healthier. Think of it like feeding a kid nothing but cake for every meal and letting them stay home from school. The first day, they’ll jump up and down and go “oh really? You’re the best!” but eventually, you’ll end up with a kid who doesn’t know their times tables and also has scurvy. Skipping the necessary things in order to indulge your dog may be spoiling them, but it sure isn’t taking care of them.
Taking care of them sometimes means the small, quiet, boring, tough stuff. Nobody is ever going to praise you for giving your cat a dewormer or opting NOT to take your dog to the dog park if it’s not something they would enjoy. Getting your pet a dental is expensive and not fun for you or the pet. Cleaning up poop is gross and tedious and your pet will never thank you for it. Boring everyday behavioral training can be a frustrating slog. Taking proper care of your pets is not always rewarding or enjoyable in the moment, but it’s a necessary part of having a happy, healthy pet.
There’s a lot to enjoy about caring for your pet, of course. A long walk on a temperate day? Amazing! The dog enjoys it and they get exercise and enrichment, which benefit them greatly. Having someone come take them out in the middle of the day while you’re at work? Awesome! It makes the dog more comfortable, gives them the chance to see a new friend, and helps with socialization. Learning and showing off tricks? Every bit as much fun for the dog as for the people. They get the chance to exercise their minds a little and then soak up all the praise and attention afterward! Watching your cat leap around after a string toy? The best. The cat gets exercise and enrichment and you get to watch their shenanigans. Brushing (for those who enjoy it)? What could be better than watching them blissed out like that and also knowing you’re helping them be cleaner and feel better? Petting, snuggling, and general love? I mean, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
All in all, as long as you’re taking care of your pet, there’s nothing wrong with a little spoiling! Just make sure that care comes first and that you’re not mistaking one for the other. Now if you’ll excuse me, my dog and I have to get ready for bed so that we can get up early and get her a puppuccino on the way to doggie daycare tomorrow. Ciao!
Got a busy week and need some help with pet care… or spoiling? Have one of our dog walkers take your precious jewel for a nice long walk. Pros: they get exercise. They get to burn some energy and are less likely to misbehave. You get to come home at the end of the day to a happy pup. Cons? I can’t think of a single one.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.