If you’re like me and my family, then you treat your family dog like just another one of your kids (quite possibly your most well-behaved and low-maintenance one). And your sons and daughters treat them like just another sister or brother (one who will never try to steal their favorite hoodie). Because, for all intents and purposes, they are just another, slightly furrier, member of the family.

We baby them and indulge them and love them unconditionally, just like our biological kids, until they drop a deuce in our slipper or chew up our wallet, of course. But even then, we forgive them. We talk baby talk to them about their overwhelming cuteness. And we care for them in sickness and in health, til death do us part. We make them one of our priorities and we do everything in our power to give them a safe and loving home that includes enormous amounts of attention and affection and scraps of chicken when no one else is looking.

And we do all of this because our pets are woven into the fabric of our family from the very first second they come into our lives — a lot like our kids are when they’re born. From that first lick and nuzzle, we’re infatuated with each other. It’s like there’s some magical property in dog saliva that acts like fairy dust from the first time they slobber us.

Honestly, where else are we going to find more loveable, loyal, and totally adorable companions? A friend who’s as excited to see us whether we’ve been away from them for 5 days or 5 minutes. A non-discriminating foodie who’s satisfied with every morsel or scrap we feed them. Someone who never rejects a good snuggle or belly rub.

That’s why, when our family dog’s health started to visibly decline over the last year, it hit all of us pretty hard. Like a punch straight to the kidney. Because, to me and to Dave, it’s like we have three girls. And to our girls, it’s like they have two sisters. So when Lily tore her ACL last year and it triggered a domino effect of other issues, it impacted all of us.

Lily not being the Lily we were all used to has been devastating. Her inability to walk well and her sudden lack of appetite and constant accidents in the house coated everyone with a layer of sadness. So much so that it actually impacted the family dynamic. Because without her being able to go running with us or out for long walks, or jump up on the couch or the bed, or walk downstairs to keep Dave company in his office while he worked, it changed the flow in the house. It affected each one of us, but in slightly different ways because we all have something unique with her. Worst of all, though, we knew she was uncomfortable.

And that’s the thing … because she’s a dog and can’t use actual words to tell us what’s wrong, we didn’t always understand the full extent of the problem. And that can be a big source of frustration in trying to care for a pet. Not to mention that an animal’s natural instinct is not to show pain or weakness to avoid becoming someone else’s prey. So even though we know they’re hurting and they’re out of sorts, it’s a constant struggle because they can’t verbalize how they feel.

Look, it’s always a heartbreaker when our kids legitimately don’t feel well. When that fever spikes or that lunch comes up, we almost always wish we could just pull whatever’s inside them out and swallow it ourselves to save them the pain. So it’s inevitable that the same would hold true for the family pet. We instinctively care about the health and well-being of the those we love, and our animal babies are no different.

Our furry buddies are members of the family, plain and simple. They’re a part of the daily and nightly and lifetime routine and considered in most everything we do. And the reason why is simple. It’s because they’re the sweetest wittle shmoopie pies in the world, that’s why.

Let’s face it, there are few relationships in life that embody such unconditional, unending, unwavering love than the bond between us and our dog or our cat or our piglet. So when there’s a man — I mean animal — down in the house, everyone feels it. Cause that’s how families operate. One for all and all for one. Just remember not to kiss the dog on the lips when he’s sick. No sense in passing those doggy germs around the house and taking everyone down with them.

— Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores.