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Puppies, kitties, and ponies: What do these things all have in common? If you’re a kinkster, then you probably know the answer. That’s right, they’re all part of pet play.

In the BDSM world, pet play is incredibly popular across sexualities, genders, and kink preferences. Many pet players are newcomers to Domination and submission (D/s), and role-playing as a kitty or puppy gives them a safe, accessible outlet to start exploring their fetishes. Others are part of the leather community and adore pet play in all of its odds and ends, from leashes and collars to masks, cages, and grooming their precious pets. Additionally, pet play’s accessibility makes it an incredibly popular kink in the online BDSM world, particularly with YouTubers who run kink channels.

If you’re interested in pet play or just want to know a little bit more about its appeal, here’s everything you need to know.

What is pet play?

Pet play is a kink in which one or more participants role-play as a pet animal. Technically, pet play falls into a larger kink umbrella called “animal play,” which may include “imitating the sounds of animals, crawling about on all fours, being hand-fed or petted, or wearing a collar,” as Kinkly writes. Within pet play, the animal role-player’s persona can take on many different forms, from your traditional domesticated cat to wild creatures and even mythical pets.

Amp Somers, the co-host of the kinky YouTube channel Watts the Safeword, told me that he discovered pet play eight years ago and has since created numerous videos on the kink. For him, pet play is deeply personal and lets him bond with his play partners beyond your traditional boyfriend-boyfriend relationship. This is in part because communication, trust, and connection are all huge parts of play for him. When a partner cannot communicate because they are a pet, he said, pet play “requires being able to communicate in other ways, body language, looks, sounds and so on,” which leads to a much deeper, more intimate connection during play. At the same time, though, pet play is explorative and fun, and you don’t need to be a kink expert to try it.

“It’s playful and kinky and doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Somers said. “As far as BDSM/kinks go, it’s not as aggressive as some of the more impactful kinks can be and provides a playful entry level for new kinksters.”

Like Somers, I have a personal connection to pet play. While I’m not necessarily a puppy play aficionado, I love doing puppy play with my partners who are into the kink. In day-to-day life, I’m somewhat restless and high-strung, as well as easily excitable. Just like a puppy, I’m eager to play, explore, experiment, and be rewarded for obedience. This comes out as a puppy, too.

With one play partner, I’ll cuddle up next to her, call her “owner,” and act like an excitable dog-girl. With another friend who is both a sadist and a dominatrix, I’ll get down on my knees and drink out of a water bowl for her while on a leash, or bark on command in exchange for head pats, usually with a few slaps thrown in for good measure. Other times, the roles will reverse, and I’ll serve as “owner” for an adorable kitty or puppy that needs plenty of love, cuddles, and “release,” if you catch my drift.

Suffice to say, pet play isn’t purely a sexual kink for me; nor is it for a play partner I’m close with, Lilith. Lilith told me about her pet play kink several years ago, and we worked together to help her explore it. Since then, pet play has rubbed off on me, and it’s become a core part of our relationship. When we’re alone, I’ll hold her and pet her as if she’s a cat. She’ll cuddle up next to me and mew, whimper, or make little cooing sounds. It’s adorable, and the effect it has on Lilith makes it a real treat.

“I actually don’t engage with the kink in a very sexual manner most of the time,” Lilith said. “I am mostly doing it when cuddling, before or after sex. I don’t look at being a cat girl as sexual, I just look at it as a way to shrink. Almost like I’m assuming a character.”

While Lilith showed an interest in pet play from a young age, it wasn’t until her teen years that the kink started to come out in her sex life. During her sexual awakening, she would make pet sounds with partners during sex and ask them to “hold [her] in a way that made [her] feel cared for.” There certainly is a sexual and erotic element to Lilith’s pet play kink, but the kink usually isn’t a sexual experience for her. There’s a wide-ranging spectrum for kinksters’ relationships with pet play; it can be as sexual or nonsexual as play partners allow.

“I like being a small, cat girl-like being. I almost always assume the role when I’m bottoming,” Lillith explained. “I’m a switch, and when I top I almost never do any of the pet stuff. When engaging with the kink outside of sex, I am definitely still enjoy being ‘small’ and letting my partner care for me.”

How does pet play work?

You don’t need to be an expert in D/s to get started with pet play, nor do you need advanced technical skills like in rope play and impact play. Because pet play is so focused on role-playing, play scenes can be as simple as one partner pretending to be a puppy or kitty, and the other serving as their “owner.” To paraphrase Somers, that’s because pet play is a versatile kink that’s both playful and approachable.

“It’s a popular kink because it doesn’t take itself so seriously,” Somers said. “Provides a fun way to express yourself. Colorful gear. Roleplay. And easy to build on to incorporate other kinks which I think leads to the popularity.”

Pet play dynamics vary based on play partners’ interests and the animal(s) chosen for scenes. BDSM Wiki notes some forms of pet play may use bondage or limits on movement. A pet may have a handler, or a dominant who grooms and trains a pet. In other cases, the pet may have a mixture of human and animal characteristics, such as barking, whimpering, puppy talk, or wearing a collar and leash while walking on two feet. Some of the various subcategories within pet play include:

  • Puppy play: Play centered around role-playing as a dog or puppy
  • Pony play: Play where a partner role-plays as a pony or horse
  • Kitten play: Play where the role-player is a kitten or cat
  • Piggy play: Play where the role-player is a pig

These subtypes may have their own unique practices and fetishes. Puppy play, for example, may involve drinking water out of a bowl. For experienced kinksters interested in more scene immersion, collars, leashes, cages, masks, and pet bowls are all common pet play staples that can enhance roleplay. Using (or not using) additional gear ultimately comes down to the kinksters’ preferences. In Somers’ case, pet play gear can help with getting “into a proper headspace or mood.” For Lilith, pet play only requires one thing: someone she deeply trusts.

“Pet play is very personal to me, and I don’t share it with many people due to some internalized shame,” she said. “In general I’m not a very open person. I only share the interest with sexual partners who I can invest a ton of trust in.”

How can I start doing pet play?

Pet play is an incredibly approachable kink for both BDSM newcomers and veterans. Unlike rope play, impact play, and any form of BDSM with sex toys and penetrative sex, all you need to get started is your imagination and some basic, core kink skills. But communication is of the utmost importance. You’ll need to discuss limits, interests, needs, past experience (or lack thereof), and safewords with your partner. This is doubly true if a submissive—be they pet or owner—will have limited movement, speech, or an increased risk of injury due to physical exertion. Ideally, you should discuss boundaries before a scene starts, whether 24 hours or 30 minutes beforehand.

If you’re using equipment like masks, collars, or bondage tape, consider how this will impact you or your partner’s ability to move and communicate. Read up on best practices and safety requirements for each tool. If you plan on spanking a bad puppy, you should practice impact play beforehand and study the safe (and unsafe) areas where humans can be hit. Additionally, consider more nuanced communication tools beyond just safewords. My personal preference is to use a traffic light code: green for “good,” yellow for “slow down/ease up,” red for “stop.” If you’re concerned about breaking immersion, you can also develop nonverbal safewords, such as a call-response by squeezing each other.

But most of all, there’s no one right way to do pet play. Whatever feels right by you and your partner(s) is perfectly fine.

“If anyone is interested in pet play, think of it more as a comfort type of thing,” said Vivian, a pet player who primarily enjoys the kink for nonsexual reasons. “And you don’t have to do all too much with it at all. It’s a very easy thing to try, hell all I have when it comes to it is cat ears and a bowl with my name on it. Don’t be afraid to try it if you’re looking for more of a comfort in your kinks.”

What are myths about pet play kinks?

Myths around pet play run rampant within and outside of the kink world. For instance, pet play doesn’t involve the sexualization of real animals, let alone bestiality. At its heart, play is all about embodying fictional roles to explore human sexual experiences. Two of the biggest myths among kinksters, Somers said, are that all pets are submissives or bottoms, and that only gay men enjoy pet play. In reality, pets can be dominants as well, and anyone can engage in the kink—many queer trans women do, for instance.

“That’s its only for male presenting people is a big [myth] I see, mostly from women who want permission to be able to enjoy it because there are so many perceived gate keepers,” Somers said.

Kink shame is real, and it can hurt peoples’ ability to fulfill their sexual needs and fantasies. It’s OK to be as kinky or as vanilla as you want. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying pet play, and embracing your fantasies is the first step to making them a reality.

“My advice to others is to be open to yourself,” Lilith said. “Kink isn’t shameful and engaging with it can be a very eye-opening experience for yourself. Life is too short to not discover other parts of yourself.”