Dog and Cat 'Moms' and 'Dads' Are Actually Parenting Their Pets, New Study Shows

The bond between a pet and an owner is almost incomprehensible until one experiences it for themselves. For many, their pets are treated like part of their family. For some, their pets are their children.

A new study published in Sage Journal showed that as fertility rates decline globally, some individuals are choosing to adopt pets rather than raise children.

"With basics taken care of, people can focus on higher-order psychological needs like feelings of achievement and a sense of purpose," Shelly Volsche, the author of the study, wrote. "The scene is set for people to actively choose to focus on pets instead of children."

As Volsche explained in the study, people around the world are experiencing changes to how people live their lives. Whether it be furthering their education and prioritizing oneself over the commitments of family life.

For the study, Volsche surveyed a total of 917 dog and cat owners on their caretaking behaviors. What she found was that respondents who had no children cared for their pets as one would care for their children.

Volsche said that nonparents with pets "emphasize fulfilling the species-specific needs of their dogs and cats." She also found that nonparents reported higher levels of attachment to their pets than pet owners with children.

However, most respondents understood that there were key differences between parenting a pet versus a human child. "They were not unthinkingly replacing human children with 'fur babies' by treating them like small, furry humans," Volsche explained.

Another study published in 2017 showed that child-free dog and cat owners thought of their pets as "emotional, thinking individuals." Some even found that their nurturing instinct was fulfilled by their pets and aided in their decision to remain child-free.

Volsche explained that caring for offspring is part of human DNA. An evolutionary behavior known to biologists and anthropologists as "alloparenting" might explain the phenomenon of pet parenting, according to Volsche.

As Volsche explained, alloparenting is the act of caring for offspring that are not biologically our own. "This means it is literally in our DNA and our ancestral history to help care for offspring who are not our own," she wrote.

Pet "parents" are actually parenting, new study
A new study shows that pet "parents" are actually parenting their dogs and cats. More and more individuals in the United States are adopting pets rather than raising children. EUY8KL/Getty Images

"If people evolved to alloparent, and our environment is now making caring for children more difficult or less appealing to some, it makes sense for people to alloparent other species entering their homes."

Newsweek recently reported about a CEO who had an employee request paternity leave for a new puppy.

Roger Wade, the CEO and founder of Boxpark, posted on LinkedIn asking users for their opinions on the situation.

"One of my staff has asked for paternity leave because he has a new puppy," he said in the post. "What do you think?"

His post instantly gained traction and received more than 2,000 comments debating whether or not the request was realistic.

"Some people are not fortunate enough to be able to have children and having a dog is their fur baby and new addition to the family. Puppies also need love and support in their early days just like a baby," Sarah Stoughton, an account manager, commented.

"If taking a few weeks for Pupternity/Pawternity is something that is going to help that person mentally to then be more productive moving forward then surely this can only be a good thing?"

But others weren't quite sold on the idea. One user said the request was entitled, others said people should "get a grip."

"Some of us with multiple kids can't always make every appointment, every Sports day or Parent's evening. Because? Work pays the bills," Steve Gibbons, a risk management consultant, commented. "So, if you honestly believe that your Employer should cover you for 2 weeks paid leave because you CHOSE to purchase an animal, you might want to consider getting a grip."