One day, while working at a hospital, I answered the phone. When working as a technician, you answer the phone ONLY when the front staff is busy, and almost ALWAYS it’s an interesting phone call.
On this particular day, a client asked me “Is my cat vomiting because he is angry?”.
Holding back laughter, I responded, “No ma’am, I don’t think your cat is vomiting because he is angry, I think he is vomiting because he is sick”.
Although this client was terribly mistaken, she was using anthropomorphism to figure out what was wrong with her cat. According to an article written on About.com, titled “Anthropomorphism and Animal Rights: Why are animal activists often accused of anthropomorphism?”, Anthropomorphism is defined as “the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to non-human beings, objects, natural, or supernatural phenomena”. This means that we have a tendency to treat our pets like humans. For example, some people give their pets fruit because its good for us, and therefore good for them, right? Not necessarily. We think that what is good for us is automatically good for them. Not only do pets have a different gastrointestinal tract than humans, but they are also not human.
To take this one step further, we apply human characteristics to animal behavior. For example, when we bring a new puppy of kitten home we often say our other pet is “jealous” and they are showing signs of “jealousy” in their behavior. When really our pets are probably being territorial, and their behavior is a sign of protecting their territory. By the owner of this cat saying that her cat was vomiting because he was angry, she felt that her pet was vomiting to spite her. However, there was obviously something medically wrong with her cat. Although I had many phone calls where I explained that pet owner logic was not necessarily spot-on, the most common form of anthropomorphism, in my experience, is when owners feed pets to show them “love”. I use a saying quite often with pet owners, “Food is not love”. This misinterpretation of animal behavior all seems harmless, right?
Wrong. When we forget that our pets are animals and not humans we are putting them in danger, especially when it comes to food. Many people think that the only way to show your pet your love them is to feed them. They even think that feeding them people food is BETTER than feeding them pet food. This is how was end up with severely overweight pets.
Although it may not seem like a problem right away, obese pets can have problems with arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, among other issues. What makes this issue harder to understand for people is that we think 4lbs of extra weight is no big deal, we forget that our pets weights 16lbs and therefore needs to lose a quarter of its weight! Fighting obesity in our animals is not easy, but the next time you go to give your pet cheese so that you are his/her favorite, think about the long terms effects you are having on your pet’s life.