What’s In a Name?

So…after my last postPet Memories, I felt it necessary to lighten up the mood slightly, and talk about the term “fur babies”. (I heard that groan!) In recent years, there has been an uproar on how people treat their pets, and whether they should be a major member of the family. This has led to the debate on the type of nicknames given. So…What’s In a Name?

Humans started domesticating animals thousands, if not tens of thousands of years ago; however, their purpose was to work with humans, or to provide meat or fur. For example, cats were used to keep mice out of silos, and dogs were used to assist in hunting. Pets then moved into becoming status symbols (think King Charles Spaniel), and in most recent years, they became a part of our families; i.e. kept inside the house, cared for more than we care for ourselves…(who’s with me?!)

What's In a Name

What Does Fur Baby Mean?

According to the Urban Dictionary, “fur baby” means a pet for someone who doesn’t have kids or a usually over-spoiled/pampered pet. I find this quite interesting because I never thought of this nickname in that sense. Now, don’t get me wrong… before I had kids, I definitely spoiled my pets, but I didn’t consider them overly-spoiled or as a replacement for my own child. I just felt that they were a part of the family and they were greatly loved. Once my kids came into the picture, my pets became more important because they cared deeply for my kids.

The Debate

Now, I can see both sides of the debate. Those who feel their pets are solidly a part of the family may be more willing to consider the term “fur baby”, but those who feel like the term baby takes away from the human aspect feel it can be disrespectful. Let’s break it down.

There are many reasons a family may consider their pets as babies. Examples could be that a couple is unable to bear children or don’t want children, and their pet is considered their baby, or maybe empty nesters decided to adopt a fur baby now that their house is missing…something. It could be a family who really, really loves their pets, and considers the pets to have a similar connection with them that human babies gives.

On the other hand, I understand that we have domesticated pets to benefit our lives in terms of necessities. Calling them a silly nickname causes us to see our pets as paedomorphic beings (think teddy bears) or we humanize them. We can see examples of this in cartoons and stuffed animals – how their eyes are much bigger than in real life and their features have been softened. They are not humans, and most pets were bred for specific jobs. In class settings, dogs treated like over-pampered pets in training will be more difficult to handle, or will not believe their parents/owners are the leaders.

There is so much debate over whether pets should be treated more like humans or should be kept isolated to working animals. I am of two minds on this. I agree with the pro-fur baby crowd as pets provide far more to a family than they used to. They provide comfort, solace, happiness, and better health. There are animals out there that can sniff out cancer, or alert to seizures, but there are also some who can understand over 200 words, and pick out certain named toys. They can read our body language and tell when we are happy or sad. That’s pretty amazing!

From a personal perspective, my Alaskan Malamute, Roc, had a huge impact on my own healing from a complicated miscarriage and the following surgeries. He was the one there when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, but also there when I was going through the miscarriage, and after the D&C. He was my comfort, solace, and helped me get through an incredibly heartbreaking time.

I have also taught basic obedience training where humans treat their pets as heavenly creatures. This is most difficult when the dog has more clout than their human counterpart, and is able to get away with anything they want to. This is not a case of “fur baby” syndrome, this is called “Our pet rules our lives completely” disease. There is no benefit towards this type of relationship as it only benefits one side.

Let me explain. Animals were domesticated to provide a service (think a Horse, Cow, or even an Australian Shepard). We utilized their strength and abilities to benefit our lifestyles. I believe as times go by, and our hearts grow softer, we consider our pets through a paedomorphic lens, not necessarily what they are capable of or what they were bred for. We are leaning more towards the Urban dictionary definition rather than a broad term of fur baby.

Once we can find a happy medium between these extremes, I believe the term “fur baby” can become more acceptable in society. We won’t have so many arguments on who is right or who babies their pets too much or who doesn’t like pets.


How many times have you overheard conversations where people getting offended? Maybe you have been offended by something said regarding your pet… Well, stop. We need to remember getting offended is something that we choose.

Let’s look at this example –

Mary considers her Chihuahua as a fur baby in the Urban Dictionary sense, and John considers his German Shepherd as a partner or a working pet. They start to debate sides and things get a little heated. Now, this can go two ways…the argument can escalate to where both parties are yelling that each is wrong, or they can stop and take a breath.

Being able to open your mind and accept that someone is (most likely) going to have a different view on this subject is the first step. But…we need to expand on this thought. If someone disagrees with you, don’t write them off just yet. Ask questions. The other person may have some insight you have not considered yet and vice versa. The point is not to just agree that everyone has their own reality, but to debate cordially and without malice.

So… Fur Baby or Not?

Pets are a part of our families. As time goes on, our relationships with our pets will become more valued. For example, we are starting to see laws being enacted to protect the abused animals in certain states. The term “fur baby” will continue to evolve, and Urban Dictionary might have to update the definition.

My hope is that we find a meeting point where fur baby just means a part of the family, not necessarily a spoiled-rotten pet or a replacement for a human baby. I hope that our pets can still do the jobs they were bred for, but also hang out with the family on the couch. I want the stigma of “fur baby” to go away and for people to understand that it is ok for a pet to be called a fur baby…but these “fur babies” need to be ambassadors for their breed (and not nippy little brats).

I want people to take a deep breath. The term “fur baby” is not something to get worked up over unless the pet is doing harm. I want people to have a good discussion without negative outcomes. I want people to learn the why behind other’s reasons.

As for me, I have 2 very large fur babies. and 1 small fur baby…(I am not sure if I should consider my husband a fur baby based on the size of his beard…but that’s another conversation for another blog.) My dogs, Beckham and Nuka, and my cat Hunter are part of my family. They are able to hang out with us, go places, eat good food, but they are not allowed to run the house. Like all family members, they have rules to abide by too.

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