Research suggests that pet owners really do have the same level of devotion to their pets as parents do to their human children.
Pet owners without children displayed a similar level of care for and attachment to their pets as parents did to their own children, albeit in species-specific ways, according to a study.
The findings come as pet owners across the country are spending billions of dollars on their pets — on food and treats, medicine, veterinary care and more. According to a report released by the American Pet Products Association, Americans nationwide spent $123.6 billion on their pets in 2021, an increase of $23 billion from the year before.
According to the September 2021 study, conducted by Shelley Volsche, a clinical assistant professor of anthropology at Boise State University, “it is an evolutionary puzzle” that people would choose to raise animals instead of having children of their own.
The need to nurture is crucial to people’s emotional and social well-being, and people who choose not to have children may meet that need by caring for animals instead, the study suggests.
This idea seems pretty apparent — people refer to themselves as “pet parents,” using phrases like “dog dad” or “cat mom” to describe their relationships to their pets.
At the same time, these people often make sure to acknowledge the difference between caring for an animal and for a child and try to meet an animal’s specific needs, Volsche wrote for The Conversation. Child-free pet owners might also be more likely to recognize animals as individuals with their own emotions and thoughts, the outlet reported.
“Though the details may look quite different — attending training classes instead of school functions, or providing smell walks for dogs instead of coloring books for children — both practices fulfill the same evolved function,” Volsche wrote. “Whether child or pet, people are meeting the same evolved need to care for, teach and love a sentient other.”