Psych Experts: There’s Nothing Crazy About Giving Christmas Presents to Pets

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Wanna hang a stocking for your cat? Or wrap a new rhinestone collar and place it under the tree so your dog can open it on Christmas morning? Knock yourself out, say psychologists.

In survey after survey, the vast majority of pet owners say they treat their dogs and cats like family. And how could you leave any beloved member of the family out of the holiday festivities? According to a PetFinder.com poll, 63% of dog owners and 58% of people with cats give their pets Christmas presents. Four in 10 dog owners, meanwhile, and 37% of cat owners hang stockings for their pets, and overall, Americans reportedly spend some $5 billion annually on holiday gifts for pets—a significant portion of the $50 billion spent each year on pets in the U.S.

Each year, owners can choose among more and more pet products and pet gifts. New trends highlighted by the American Pet Product Association this year include special offerings from retailers that normally focus on humans, such as Omaha Steaks (now selling steak pet treats) and Paul Mitchell (offering a full range of pet shampoos and pet hygiene products).

(MORE: Dog’s Life: Owners Don’t Cut Pet Spending During Tough Times)

To some degree, many pet owners acknowledge that there’s something silly about over-the-top Christmas presents for pets. The Gloucester County Times (N.J.), for instance, interviewed one man about how he celebrates Christmas with his golden retriever, Rue:

“She gets a pretty Christmas Eve outfit that she tugs and pulls off within 10 minutes,” he said. “That’s a $75 waste of money each year.”

That’s hardly the only example of wasteful spending around the holidays—buying a tablet for a toddler also comes to mind.

(MORE: The Gift Not to Buy This Year: A Puppy from the Pet-Store Window)

But is there anything disturbing or downright crazy about buying Christmas gifts for pets? That’s the question asked in a USA Today story. The answer, according to several mental health professionals, is this:

The blatant puppy love much of America is displaying does not spell the end of society as we know it, and the pet-obsessed are not pathetically off-kilter humans in need of intense therapy.

In fact, it’s quite natural to want to give gifts to pets. It’s part of the innate human “need to nurture,” says one psychologist:

“What’s the harm?” says Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a Psychology Today columnist on human-pet interactions. “Someone may go spend $20 on a rhinestone collar. That’s pretty much the worst that will happen.”

(MORE: Pet-Care Inflation: Health Care Costs Have Soared, and Not Only for Human Beings)

That said, there’s also nothing wrong with trying to get a deal on pet presents, like the latest Pet Smart discounts featured by dealnews. It’d be crazy to think your pet would be offended because you bought him this year’s holiday outfit on sale.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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