How to Set Boundaries With Your Friends With Pets

If you don’t want to host someone’s four-legged friend, here are some ways to say no.

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setting Boundaries-With-Your-Friends about Pets
Some people like to bring their pets wherever they go, but you don't have to go along with it.iStock

It’s not your imagination: Pet ownership surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2020 to 2021 alone, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that one in five American households — or 23 million — added a fur baby to their family. After all, multiple studies, including one conducted during lockdown, have found that owning a pet can benefit your mental health. But while Fido or Fluffy may ease anxiety and loneliness, some people are finding that their new four-legged friend can add stress to some personal relationships.

Quite simply, pets can make your life better, but they can also complicate it. Not only do they require feeding, attention, and medical care, you have to figure out what to do with them when you leave the house. As much as you love them, they aren’t welcome everywhere — and this might even include the homes of your closest friends and family members.

Why Some People Don’t Want Pets in Their Home

You may be a dog or cat person, but plenty of people just aren’t into pets. And even those who consider themselves animal lovers might not be open to loving yours. There are many reasons why those in your inner circle might not appreciate the company of your sidekick, especially in their own home.

Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a doctor of law and a licensed marriage and family therapist who lives in Telluride, Colorado, explains that, for one thing, pets can carry germs. COVID-19 created huge amounts of anxiety about our collective health, to the point where many of us were wiping down our groceries and mail. While those dire days are past, Dr. Hokemeyer says, “Our anxiety around germs and the cleanliness of our homes remains highly elevated.”

Dogs can also bring in dirt and shed hair, and it isn’t uncommon for them to mark their territory in a new place. “Pets, particularly other people's pets, may be lovely, but they are seldom serene and clean. They can bring great joy and comfort, but they also bring elements of chaos and uncleanliness to our most intimate and sacred environments,” says Hokemeyer.

A pet’s unpredictable behavior is another factor. As a facial reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon, Yan Lee, MD, of Yale Medicine Surgery in New Haven, Connecticut, sees a lot of animal-related injuries to the face. “It is not just about the type or breed of animal, but about the situations that make people more vulnerable to injuries,” she says. One of these common situations? Meeting new people. “It can be exciting, but also a little nerve-racking. Their body language may help to convey their emotions, but sometimes, their body language is tough to interpret. For example, a dog wagging his or her tail may be from happiness or anxiety,” Dr. Lee points out.

Pets can be hazardous to your health in other ways. Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist in New York City and the national spokesperson for the Allergy & Asthma Network, says, “Asthma is most commonly triggered by allergies, which include pets.” It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of people worldwide are allergic to dogs or cats, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

How to Tackle the Topic

It can be a touchy subject. Many people consider their pet a part of their family. And if you’re the one who isn’t comfortable hosting someone else’s pet, you may not know how to set that boundary without causing hard feelings. Hokemeyer offers the following tips.

Be Honest

Hokemeyer suggests complete honesty, not only about whether you want the animal in your home, but why. “Avoid lying about why you don't want their pet to come over,” he advises. “Don't say you're allergic to pets if you're not. Instead, state your reasons with conviction and kindness.”

Use the Pet’s Name

It might not seem like a big deal, but mentioning the name of their pet (and not using words like “it” to describe them) adds a dose of sensitivity to the conversation. Also, make it clear that not wanting their animal in your home doesn’t mean you don’t respect how they feel about them.

Emphasize Your Well-Being

Explain to your friend or family member how hosting their pet may cause a problem for you. Let them know that by respecting your wishes, they’ll be supporting your well-being.

Leave It Up to Them

Finally, gently and lovingly give them an out. Hokemeyer suggests something along the lines of: "You know I love Spottie, but given my obsession of late with making sure my home stays as clean as possible to ensure my health and the health of my family, I'm going to have to make the painful decision to keep outside pets out. I'm disappointed and sad, but I hope you can understand. If it means that you aren't willing to come without her, I will understand.”

Prepare to Hold Firm

If your friend gets offended or brings the pet over anyway, stick with your plan and don’t let them in. With any luck, once they cool off, the two of you will be able to get past it. If not, you might want to consider unleashing them from your life. “If the person acts negatively at that point, it's clear they are more concerned with themselves than the friendship,” says Hokemeyer. “Yes, it will be hard. You will probably lose the friend. But you will make up for the loss with respect for yourself and your ability to set and hold difficult boundaries with difficult people,” he says.

Remember there’s no right or wrong way to feel about other people’s pets, especially when it comes to your space. It’s okay not to want them in your home. “It's not a public park that's meant to be shared,” Hokemeyer says. “You're the queen and king of the castle you've created. You have an absolute right to rule it with authority and dominion.”