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Your Happy Pet: Pets are part of the family

Original Publication Date: June 30, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Of the 64 percent of American households that own at least one pet, 70 percent of dog owners and almost 60 percent of cat owners regard their pet as a family member or child.

At a time when many families are stretching their budgets to the max, they still find a way to cover the cost of caring for four-footed furry members of the family.

The costs are not necessarily small. The American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2014, pet owners will spend $58.51 billion to care for their companion animals. The number has skyrocketed from $17 billion spent in 1994.

The majority of the dollars go for food and medical care, but people are also spending more on toys, collars, leashes, clothes, furniture and services like doggy day care for their pets.

The dollars spent are a reflection of the love people have for their pets, but why have pets taken a more prominent role in the family?

A pet brings joy, a sense of tranquility, and definite health benefits to most pet owners. Nearly 25 years of scientific research documents the fact that living with pets lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety, and boosts immunity. Most would rather pamper their pet than spend money on doctor bills and pills to cope with these issues.

Empty nesters and the elderly account for a large percentage of the pet owning community. Baby boomers who were helicopter parents hover over their pets now that their children are grown.

Boomers along with the elderly, especially those who live alone, find it rewarding to have a companion to ward off loneliness. It is comforting to have a friend who always greets them with a cheerful tail wag and snuggle.

It is easy to understand why service animals are considered family members. Seeing-eye dogs are well known for their assistance to their humans, but other types of helpers are just as important.

Some dogs are trained to detect impeding seizures in epileptic patients or low blood sugar in diabetics.

Recently dogs are helping disabled American veterans. These pups are trained to pick up and retrieve items, open and close doors, pull wheelchairs, provide a brace to assist in standing, walking and sitting down, help with chores, take off shoes and socks, and get help in emergencies. What a wonderful addition to the family.

Pet ownership is on the rise. The reasons for adding a pet as a member of the family vary widely, but most pet lovers agree that devoted companionship well outweighs any expense involved.

Sue Furman, Ph.D. has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, doggie yoga and massage, acupressure, and pet first aid and CPR at Dorothy O'Connor Pet Adoption Center and the Texas Zoo. See her schedule or submit questions at