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Are You Obsessed With Your Pet?

Experts talk with WebMD about the line between devotion and obsession with your pet.
By Carol Bryant
WebMD Pet Health Feature

You've probably heard urban legends about the elderly lady who has dozens of cats, the guy who collects snakes and never leaves his house, or someone who spends thousands on clothes for their pet.

When Kim Swank, 35, of Layton, Utah, spent $10,000 on treatment for a cherished family member, it wasn’t for her spouse, sibling, or parent -- it was for Wilson, her beloved Pug. "People would approach my husband and say, “I can’t believe you paid 10 grand to keep a dog alive!” My husband’s reply was simply, “Well, it’s cheaper than a divorce!” Swank tells WebMD.

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Some people believe this sounds like an obsession that could be unhealthy for the person and pet alike. But many others say mind your own business, as long as there's no harm or neglect happening. To them, going to great lengths for their pet is completely rational, caring behavior.

Where is the line between obsession and devotion? Here's what experts told WebMD.

Quality of Life

Dedication and devotion are sometimes mistaken for a preoccupation with pets. But "obsessed" may be an overused word.

“Obsession is a little bit of a negative term. I prefer passionate," pet safety expert Jill Richardson, DVM, tells WebMD. "A passionate pet owner is someone who is their pet's biggest cheerleader," she says. "They make sure their pet is healthy and happy. To them, their pet is part of the family.”

But if your health or the pet's quality of life suffers, that's an unhealthy obsession.

“If a person is obsessed, they may not realize that they or the pet is suffering," Richardson says. "Sometimes it takes a friend, relative, or vet to point out the problem. One of the most common situations is when a pet has a terminal condition that is hopeless and the pet owners do not consider euthanasia," Richardson says.

"My professional opinion about being obsessed with anything is whether or not one loses a sense of balance and the child, animal, or object of obsession takes over one's entire life,” La Jolla, Calif. psychotherapist Cathy Conheim, LCSW, tells WebMD.

If you suspect you have an unhealthy obsession with your pet, professional treatment is recommended.

When You're Called Obsessed

Christine Pellicano of New York, known in the pet world as Aunt Christine, has been a cat sitter, dog walker, pet artist, and photographer for more than 25 years.

“Some people have judged me by their own standards and mistake my commitment and dedication to animal welfare and my own pets as an obsession," Pellicano tells WebMD. "Family members were extremely judgmental and their attitudes resulted in a rift between us that has never been repaired. Love me, love my dogs and cats, and respect my feelings about them.”

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