We treat our pets as people. Is it because it’s getting harder to have faith in humans? | Arwa Mahdawi

From Ikea cat beds to puppucinos, pets are taking over the world. We think we own them, but in reality it’s the other way round

It’s time to topple the petriarchy. Seriously, the world is going to the dogs … and the cats, gerbils, and potbellied micropigs. While humans like to think of ourselves as the strongest, smartest species, it’s increasingly clear that many of us are simply slaves to our animals’ instincts. We may think we own our pets, but really, it’s the other way round. Pets are taking over the world.

The latest evidence of this can be found at Ikea. The ubiquitous Scandinavian retailer recently launched a range of pet furniture called Lurvig, which means “hairy” in Swedish. I admit, when I first heard the news, I was lurvig it. In fact, I rushed to Ikea dot com eager to buy a midcentury modern Sofket or comfy Bedek for my own Dogke, a small, congenitally scruffy rescue called Rascal. Reader, I was sorely disappointed. Actually, I wasn’t disappointed, I was angry. The feline-normative bias of the furniture was infuriating. While the Ikea cat-alogue included sleek, sophisticated items such as a “cat house on legs”, the uninspired canine collection was clearly designed for basic bitches. It’s as if the designers decided that while felines are fancy, dogs are undiscerning creatures who don’t give a damn about interior decor. Anyway, not only did my outrage at Ikea’s puppy prejudice prevent me from spending even more of my disposable income on my dog than usual, it momentarily distracted me from my main argument here. Which is that our obsession with our furry friends is getting out of hand. We are spending record amounts of money on our pets. Global sales of pet products and services in 2016 were $103.5bn (£77.9bn); a 4.7% increase over 2015, which is a growth rate that surpasses that of many consumer packaged-goods industries.

Why are we spending so much money on our animal companions? Well, as Euromonitor put it, because “pet humanisation trends continue to accelerate”. Basically, we seem to think pets are people and are treating them as such. A 2015 Nielsen survey found 95% of US pet-owners consider their pets part of the family – up from 88% in 2007. It’s not just Americans who are animal-mad: last year, a survey (albeit by a pet-food company) claimed that 56% of Brits planned to spend more money on Christmas presents for their pets than on gifts for their human family.

This privileging of pets can partly be explained by demographic trends. More of us are living alone and waiting longer to have children – which means fur babies are increasingly filling in for human babies. It can also be explained by … well, I mean, just look at the news. Who can blame us for anthropomorphising animals when it’s becoming harder to have faith in actual human beings?

While modern politics may be a dog’s dinner, nowhere is the humanisation of pets more clearly reflected than in their diets. Despite the fact that dogs will happily eat their own vomit, their meals have become a gourmet affair – the ingredients of which tend to say more about the food fads their owners have swallowed than animal appetites. Middle-class mutts and yuppie puppies are being fed the likes of “chicken and quinoa ancient grains”; Whole Life Pet offers dog and cat treats made of kale, chia seeds and Greek yoghurt. Gluten-free pet food is also all the rage. The family that doesn’t eat gluten together stays together, and all that.

Now, if your furry friend wants a little something to wash down their organic, grain-free meal, the free market has you covered. The Pet Winery sells tiny little bottles of Mëow & Chandon and Dog Pawrignon. For anyone who has ever been told you can’t turn a terrible pun into a profitable business model – let that give you paws for thought! And if your dog isn’t a drinker, there are plenty of non-mock-alcoholic beverages available. For reasons that aren’t immediately obvious, a company called the Honest Kitchen sells pumpkin spice lattes for dogs. You can, of course, also pick up a puppuccino from Starbucks.

After all that wining and dining, your pet may be in need of some exercise. Well, worry not. Dog yoga, AKA doing the downward dog alongside your own, upwardly mobile canine, is an actual thing. Meanwhile, according to CNN, cat yoga is “the mewest exercise trend”. If you’re not into yoga then you can always count your pet’s steps with a smart fitness tracker; there are several on the market.

Gosh, I could go on and on. I mean, we haven’t even got to haute canine couture or Bark Mitzvahs yet. But I’m afraid I’ve got to wind things up. I have a gluten-free quinoa plate to prepare for the dog’s supper tonight and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

Contributor

Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Dog days are over: what’s behind the decline in pets?
Novelist Jilly Cooper calls it ‘heartbreaking’ – but the rise of Generation Rent and social media could be causing us to turn our backs on four-legged friends

Patrick Barkham

13, Jun, 2016 @6:30 AM

Article image
Should we stop keeping pets? Why more and more ethicists say yes
Ninety per cent of Britons think of their pet as part of the family – 16% even included them on the last census. But recent research into animals’ emotional lives has cast doubt on the ethics of petkeeping

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

01, Aug, 2017 @3:24 PM

Article image
Are pets really good for us – or just hairy health hazards?
Many animal-lovers think a cat or dog can help you live a longer, happier, healthier life. But does the science back them up?

Jules Howard

13, Oct, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Rescue me: why Britain’s beautiful lockdown pets are being abandoned
The cats and dogs that helped us through the pandemic are increasingly being dumped in the street or handed over to charities – and shelters are dealing with the fallout

Sam Wollaston

01, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
'He humps all the other dogs … I’m his humping accomplice': comedians on their pets
As the Edinburgh festival approaches, Ed Byrne, Susan Calman, Stevie Martin and others on why their pets are friends, companions and a source of inspiration

Interviews by Chris Wiegand

23, Jul, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
What our pets are trying to tell us
When your cat lies on its back and shows its tummy, does it want it stroked? And why does your bunny tremble all the time? Lucy Mangan reveals all

Lucy Mangan

03, Nov, 2013 @7:00 PM

Article image
Are 'peticures' – fake nails for animals – ever a good idea?
Pictures of moggies and pooches rocking nail polish and glue-on claw caps are appearing on Instagram, but worries from vets and charities ought to give owners paws for thought

Gavin Haynes

13, Sep, 2017 @4:34 PM

Article image
‘Alice the rat was so special’: readers on their brilliant, beloved pet tattoos
During the pandemic, every pet became an emotional support animal – and many people decided they wanted to commemorate them indelibly and incredibly

Guardian readers

07, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
How to dispose of a dead pet: is taxidermy the very best option?
Have you considered having your dead dog stuffed? Or perhaps turning it into a rug? Or a drone? With no established way to mourn the loss of a loved animal, pet owners have turned to any number of curious methods

Anne Perkins

04, Dec, 2017 @4:42 PM

Article image
Sit! Stay! Don’t be sad! How to protect your pet from separation anxiety
From dogs and cats to parrots and rabbits, our pets have got used to having us around 24/7 during lockdown. As life gets back to normal, here’s how to save them from loneliness and stress

Jules Howard

09, May, 2021 @1:00 PM