Infantilization in pet keeping'¦and its unintended consequences for animal health
Yes, it’s true. We modern humans are a confused lot. Though most of us adore our pets and reward them with familiar integration, some of us get a little freaky about how we do this. Along with the so called “pets-as-children” phenomenon comes its unwelcome extreme: infantilization.
In case you’re not sure what I mean by this, the above photo should say it all. If you’re still fuzzy, here’s the scoop: infantilization is defined by Merriam-Webster’s as “to make or keep infantile (infant-like).”
People do this to their pets. And we veterinarians wish they wouldn’t. Here are some examples (I’m sure you have more):
1-The Yorkie who lives in diapers so she never need be trained (her owner also gets a kick out of bottle-feeding her milk).
2-The cat who lives fully dressed (complete with obligatory hat) and is trained to always use the bathroom when her owner does—on toilet paper.
3-The teacup Pom who can go nowhere unless fully clothed so that no one can stare at her exposed “coochie.” (Who can see a thing anyway with all that fluff?)
This is but a trio of the examples I’m treated to on a regular basis. Sure, you say, some people are just weird—that’s life. But this extreme behavior bodes ill for the animals in myriad ways.
Urine scalding? Inappropriate elimination problems? Dominance aggression? Poor nutrition? Munchausen’s-by-proxy (in one notable case)? All are pitfalls of keeping pets in a condition they don’t belong.
And it’s getting more common if my experience is any guide. With the increasing acceptance of pets as family members, these extreme oddities (and others well on their way to following their example) are more prevalent than ever.
In Miami, clothing shops for pets also offer baby carriages, baby bottles, cribs and other infantile accoutrements made just for dogs. You’ve seen the pacifier toys, right? They’re not just for pups anymore. And teacup pup shops? They’re built for this trade (though I’ll hasten to add that most teacup keepers are not this freaky—many are darn normal and thank God for that).
You might think vets would relish this novelty. It can only mean people are willing to spend more on their pets—which includes their healthcare.
But I don’t. Behavior consultation, nutritional consultation, hygiene issues. I have enough on my plate without having to explain why a tight, Shakira-style dress worn 24/7 is not a good thing (see where her fur’s getting rubbed off?).
People can be eccentric and I welcome their quirks. (After all, I keep goats in suburbia. I revel in eccentricity.) But there’s a line I draw when it comes to abusing the health of the animals in their care.
When I lay it out for them I fully expect them to go find other vets. But somehow they keep coming back, in spite of the fact that I’ll have nothing to do with the diaper thing. Maybe other vets are smarter and refuse to indulge them altogether.
And that makes sense. There’s not one vet I know who looks forward to a Pug in a baby carriage, much though the waiting room’s occupants may coo.