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.


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

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