During my interview on the Twisted Nether Blogcast (which I'm sure all of you have listened to by now... right?!), Brigwyn asked a question that has plagued healers for 80 levels.
Should healers heal pets?
You'll find people with opinions on both sides of the spectrum. Of course, I'm assuming the hunter in question is neither a jerk, nor a "classic huntard" who allows his pet to pull everything. One of my best friends is a Beast Mastery hunter and runs ICC with us, so I'm quite used to running with good hunters.
A few weeks after I switched from Holy to Disc, another hunter I run with a lot pouted at me and asked why I no longer healed his pet. I was rather confused, since I had never really gone out of my way to heal people's pets. He told me that before, his pet always survived through all the fights. I sat down and thought about this for awhile, and finally figured out why he had noticed the difference - Holy Priests have Circle of Healing which is a smart heal, and therefore WILL heal pets. Disc Priests focus more on using Penance and Power Word: Shield. Neither of these will heal or protect a pet unless the healer makes a concerted effort to do so. AoE Smart Heals
So let's take a look at some AoE Smart Heals that will heal pets without a concerted effort made on the healer's part:
Wonky spells that may require a bit of testing before I'm sure how they affect pets:
Chain Heal - (Resto Shaman) - this is a little wonky, depending on who it's cast on first - note the tooltip.
Holy Light (Holy Paladin) - note that this will only happen if glyphed for the splash effect. This is not actually a "smart heal" as it seems to randomly select 5 targets within range to benefit with the splash heal effect.
Divine Hymn is on a very long cooldown, so I wouldn't expect for pets to get healed from that very often. But essentially, if pets are among those with the lowest amount of health and greatest need for healing, they will be one of the targets chosen for healing by the smart heal.
So what about the not-so-smart group heals? These are heals that will heal all members in a particular group within a certain range.
I tested Prayer of Healing and Holy Nova last night. As long as the pet's owner (i.e. the commanding Warlock or Hunter) is in the party that is being targetted by the group heal, the pet will be healed as well.
Okay so we've talked about the passive ways in which a healer can heal pets. The next question is, how much healing do hunters' pets really need? In reality, as long as the hunter is doing their job and keeping their pet from being aggressive when not needed, and making sure the pet is attacking the right target... not much!
In patch 3.3, Blizz buffed the passive ability known as Avoidance. There is both a Hunter version and a Warlock version. Priests may have noted that even our Shadowfiends were given a similar ability to increase their survivability. In fact, the only class that didn't get a similar passive ability for their pet was the Death Knight, who needs to spec into Night of the Dead in order to get the same thing.
The stock UI and even most unit frame add-ons do not make it particularly easy to heal pets. If you use Healbot, you can set it up to show pets, and I have X-Perl configured to show them as well, but standard formats are not always amenable to pet-healing.
Raid versus Dungeon
However, due to the way AoE and group heals work, coupled with the changes to Avoidance, in a raid, healers should rarely, if ever, find it necessary to directly heal pets. Single target healers (Paladins, and to a lesser degree, Disc Priests) are least able to do much healing to pets. In a raid, this usually doesn't matter anyway, as they will likely be focusing on the tank. But, if your raid healer is a Disc Priest in charge of shield-spamming, or an extra Pally, keep this in mind.
The problem comes in 5 man dungeons. Depending on the type of healer the 5 man has, and the amount of AoE healing they do, pets may get little, if any, indirect healing at all. The first priority to keeping a pet alive is for the hunter to take care in how they manage their pet. Pets will nearly always be the lowest priority target for the healer.
Why did my hunter friend notice that his pet was no longer getting heals from me once I switched to Discipline? In 5 mans, I rarely need to use any group heals, because I focus more on bubbling everyone - except that I never remember to bubble pets. The unit frame for pets is much smaller and easier to overlook. Usually Prayer of Mending will hit them enough to keep them up... but sometimes it's not enough.
Should Healers Even Care?
Maybe not. Maybe it isn't our responsibility, since hunters do have the ability to heal their pets, as do warlocks. Pets and minions certainly are very rarely a priority.
However, the purpose of a healer is to help keep others alive long enough to perform their role properly. Particularly for Demonology Warlocks and Beast Mastery Hunters, pets make up a significant portion of their DPS. Losing their pet or minion renders them very impotent damage wise, and can make or break a fight if it's a DPS check.
In the end, after examining the passive avoidance ability, and the effects of AoE and group heals, I don't think it's necessary for healers to specifically make an effort to heal pets, except in certain fights (for instance, our hunter's pet is a significant portion of our physical DPS on the adds for the Lady Deathwhisper fight, so I do keep an eye out on her pet).
But as a healer, if you have some extra mana, and an extra GCD to throw around, consider putting a bubble on the kitty. Your hunters will love you. And who wouldn't want the love of someone like Pike or Brigwyn? Except those 'locks...