Holiday shopping is in full swing. It seems like a good time to discuss the difference between spoiling your pets and spoiling them rotten. The way I see it, spoiling pets involves giving them everything they need in the way of attention, love, exercise, nutrition, and accessories … and then a little bit more. As long as a person can afford to do so, spoiling a pet can be a win-win situation for everyone. The pet parent gets to pamper a beloved companion, and the animal enjoys a truly charmed life.

All that can change when the line between spoiled and spoiled rotten is crossed. When pets are spoiled rotten their health and/or behavior can change for the worse. Take dog and cat treats, for example. Are they necessary? No. Can they be a fun way to enhance the human-pet relationship? Of course. I’ve got no issues with the sensible use of either inexpensive/generic or extravagant/expensive types of treats. However, once treats are given in such volume or with such frequency that pets are not eating sufficient amounts of their nutritionally complete foods, gain unhealthy amounts of weight, and/or become annoying little beggars … in my book, they are spoiled rotten.

Money isn’t at the heart of what spoils pets rotten. While I think spending tens of thousands of dollars on a designer doghouse or hundreds on a luxury cat bed is ridiculous, I doubt doing so will have an adverse affect on a pet’s health or behavior. These purchases are more about their owners’ desires than what the pets want or need. One of the things I love most about animals is that they are still far more concerned with an object’s function rather than its form.

Beware of being judgmental about other owners’ purchasing decisions, however. What might appear to be frivolous from afar may be truly compassionate upon closer inspection. I recently met an owner who had bought an expensive pull-behind bike buggy for his elderly Samoyed. This dog used to love nothing more than to run beside his owner’s bike along the trails that criss-cross our city. Age and arthritis now made that impossible, but when they pulled away and I saw the dog grinning in delight, I couldn’t help but smile myself. This sweet old dog may have been spoiled, but he surely wasn’t spoiled rotten.

What do you think? Are your pets spoiled, spoiled rotten, or neither?

As an aside, any of you who are interested in Temple Grandin and her work should check out this fascinating and informative video put together by the folks at Science Friday.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Canada Dar 2006 by James Tworow / via Flickr