Dog, Cat or Fur Baby? Why we are in love with with our pets
fur baby (also fur child, fur kid)
Noun (informal): a person’s dog, cat or other pet animal that has fur, especially when it is treated with the love and attention you would give a child.
Back in 2015, the Oxford Dictionary added the term “fur baby” to its official lexicon. If you have a pet, you probably already know that the fur baby movement in Australia is very real. For one, more than half of us share our bedrooms – and often our beds – with our dogs and cats.
Let’s be honest, we all spoil our fur babies, but why wouldn’t we, when they are the ones who give us the most unconditional love any time of day, and don’t answer back!
The reality is that Aussie dog and cat owners tend to regard their pets as ‘fur babies’, with over 60% of dog and cat owners referring to their pet as a member of the family. Even more noteworthy, one in three dog owners feel that having dogs has reduced their desire for children!
The ever-growing popularity of pets in Australia
There’s no doubt about it, Australians love living with pets, from big and furry to cute and cuddly to small and slimy (reptiles, rodents, birds, fish and even horses included!).
In fact, there are more pets than people in Australia and post the pandemic pet boom, almost 7 million households now have a pet. This is a higher rate of pet ownership than in many other countries around the world, including the USA and United Kingdom.
- Almost half of all Aussie households have a dog
- A third of Australian households have a cat
Pet parent or Pet owner? Take quick quiz to find out how you score!
You most likely qualify as a pet-parent if you do, or have done, three or more of the following:
- Speak to your pets regularly and as if they understand the words
- Give them ‘human’ names like Max, Charlie, Lucy, Chloe and Bella
- Refer to yourself as ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ when talking to them
- Take time off work to be with them
- Sleep with them on or in your bed
- Allow them on the sofa and/or other furniture
- Dress them in items of clothing
- Arrange play dates for them with other dogs or cats
- Take them on outings and/or holidays with you
- Buy them presents on special occasions (birthdays, Christmas etc)
- Include them in your annual family photograph
- Play games like hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo and musical statues with them
- Feel warm and gooey inside when they stare lovingly into your eyes
- Have a social media profile for them (bonus point if it’s on Instagram)
- Share photos, videos and/or memes about life with your pets and /or other people’s pets
- Find yourself crying with laughter after reading pet posts such as these:
If you didn’t notch up at least 3 yesses, you may not qualify as a pet parent quite yet, but keep in mind that our relationships with our pets continue to change and evolve. And if you’ve done just one or two of the above, or even posted your dog or cat on social media, you’re well on your way!
The rise and rise of the fur-baby
Not surprisingly, our relationship with our pets has changed over time. Many modern day owner-pet relationships tend to mirror traditional parent-child relationships. Even the terminology has changed to reflect this: many owners nowadays consider ourselves as ‘pet-parents’ and our dogs and cats as our ‘fur babies’! No longer relegated to the kennel in the backyard, many of today’s pets are sleeping in our beds, eating gourmet meals and leading a privileged – and some would say pampered – life.
The reasons for this are obvious to most pet-parents – we love and cherish our pets and we regard them as sentient beings. One good thing to come out of the Covid pandemic is that we’ve been able to spend more time than ever with our pets over the past few years. This may partly explain why we increasingly see our dogs and cats as our life companions, best friends or family members, and most of us cannot imagine life without them.
The close relationship we share with our pets is a two-way street – the affection, loyalty and love we receive from them is equal to the love and attention we give to them. Many of us are unable to imagine life without our pets and are clearly emotional in the way we describe the joy of spending time with our pets, playing with them, creating memories together and keeping life interesting. It’s no wonder, then, that we ‘spoil’ them sometimes!
We are a nation of pet parents
Two recent surveys reveal that Australia is a nation of pet-parents and we want our ‘fur babies’ to be recognised as such.
Scratch’s Great Aussie Dog Survey found that dog owners (nearly half of all Australians) are ready to relax laws and allow dogs in more places where humans go:
- 71% of Aussie dog owners believe that dogs should be allowed inside cafes and pubs
- 58% said their workplace was not at all dog-friendly
- Most agree that dogs should be allowed on planes
- 70% agree that dogs should be seen as more than merely ‘property’ by Australian law
It also established that 33% of under 35’s have an Instagram account for their dog, as do 29% of 35-44 year-olds.
Pets in Australia’s 2022 survey had the following interesting findings:
- More than 25% of Aussie pet-parent take their pets on holidays or road trips
- 50% take them to visit friends and family
- 13% take them shopping
- 30% cook or make treats for them
- 21% rearrange personal commitments around them
- 7% threw a birthday party (with human and/or animal guests) for them
- 8% call / video them when away from home
What’s more, pet parents are spending over $1 billion each year on keeping their pets healthy and happy. They are focused on the welfare nnd comfort of their pets, enjoy giving their pets gifts, refer to themselves as their pet’s ‘parent’, and like to take their pet with them when they go out and about or on holidays. Dogs these days are pretty much on a par with the kids, even getting new toys monthly!
What does the science say?
Blame it on hormones, says the science. Research has shown that when our dogs stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response – a rise in our oxytocin levels – that bonds us to human infants.
Furthermore, the study found that eye-gazing also caused the dogs’ oxytocin levels to increase considerably, creating a positive feedback loop that may explain why we feel so close to our dogs and why they bond so closely with us.
According to another study, talking to our pets in the same way we talk to human babies – using high pitched ‘baby-talk’ and simple, repetitive phrases – has a similar effect on both dogs and cats: they were far more likely to pay attention when their owners use this kind of speech.
Our fur babies’ response to this type of ‘caregiver speech’ adds to the existing evidence that cats and dogs may bond with us in some of the same ways that infants do. In fact, the findings suggest that our pets understand that we are their caregivers and that they have developed ways to communicate with us in ways that reflect and reinforce that bond.
Are we spoiling our pets by treating them as fur babies?
There is a perception out there that if you see your dog or cat as your fur baby, you are likely to be pampering and over-indulging them, thereby creating a spoiled and badly behaved animal. And in extreme cases, this may well be true. However, most pet parents understand that their pet is not a human and most fur babies will thrive with the love and attention they receive from their surrogate ‘mum’ or ‘dad’… as long as you are clear and consistent with training, discipline and routine, and let your dog be a dog or your cat be a cat.
So go ahead and throw them a birthday party (with pet-appropriate food and beverages) or take them out and about with you, preferably with them walking on the lead as much as possible, rather than being carried everywhere in your handbag!
We love it when you share pics of your Bow Wow fur babies being pampered on their birthdays! Follow us and upload your fave pet pics to our socials:
A pet insurance policy with Bow Wow Meow will help ensure you can always afford to give your pet the best treatment, whatever your budget.
Find out more about our pet insurance options for dogs
Find out more about our pet insurance options for cats