Pets are becoming more and more mainstream, and pet owners are spending more money than ever on pet-related goods and services. The way Americans view their pets today has definitely evolved from a time when Fido was relegated to the back yard, perhaps tethered to a chain. Most pet owners view them as part of the family. Dogs are going on vacations with their families, proving that “pets as family” is becoming more accepted, perhaps even expected. In fact, over the last few years, we are seeing a movement toward the “humanization” of pets.

Let’s take a look at trends that are established now and see what the future has in store for the pet industry.

Spending will increase

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) offers a look at the pet industry expenditures from 1994 to 2016. The growth of the spending on the pet industry has been quite staggering. Even in years in which the economy dipped into recession, Americans made their pets a priority and spending steadily increased.

In 1994, the APPA says Americans spent $17 billion on their pets. By 2016, spending nearly quadrupled to an estimated $62.75 billion, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down. In fact, by 2020, the pet industry could hit $96 billion in sales.

The APPA breaks down the spending from 2015 as follows:

  • Food - $23.05 billion
  • Supplies/OTC medicine - $14.28 billion
  • Vet Care - $15.42 billion
  • Live animal purchases - $2.12 billion
  • Pet Services (includes walking, sitting, training, grooming and boarding) - $5.41 billion

According to an article in Pet Business Professor based on information from the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, spending on non-vet pet services, which includes sitting and walking, continues to increase. Despite the fact that prices in this segment have increased above the national CPI average for some years, consumers continue to spend their money on non-vet services.

While the amount consumers spent on their pets in 2016 is being tallied, the APPA estimated that spending would only drop in one category – live animal purchases, which could reflect an increased acceptance among prospective pet owners who choose to adopt a rescue rather than buy from a breeder. According to the ASPCA, adoptions are up while euthanasia is down. Their research shows that Americans were adopting around 2.7 million animals a year on average, but that number has increased to 3.2 million.

Pet ownership continues to rise

The APPA began its National Pet Owners Survey in 1988. This survey has been a valuable source of information for tracking the rate at which Americans make a pet part of their family.

The last survey, completed in 2012, shows that 72.9 million households in the U.S. have at least one pet, which is nearly 10 million more pet-owning households than what was recorded in 2000. Roughly four out of 10 households include more than one pet. There is no indication that these numbers will drop any time in the near future.

The following is a list of pets and their numbers in households as of the last survey:

  • 78 million dogs
  • 86.4 million cats
  • 151.1 million freshwater fish
  • 8.61 million saltwater fish
  • 16.2 million birds
  • 16 million small animals  
  • 13 million reptiles
  • 7.9 million equines

Pet owners are going organic with food and health alternatives

Consumers have been on the organic kick for quite a few years now, and it makes sense – organic and natural foods have a lot of cache with consumers looking to improve their lifestyles. Increasingly, pet owners are seeking out organic food and alternative health products for their fury friends.

A survey conducted by Packed Facts, a leading source of market research on consumer goods and services industries, found that half of the pet owners surveyed believed natural and organic pet foods are safer than regular pet foods. Around 64 percent of dog owners and 56 percent of cat owners consider product safety and the risks of food contamination when they make their food purchases.

If you’ve been seeking out grain free foods for your pet(s), you’re part of a movement that has crossed over to conventional products. Packaged Facts found in their survey that 19 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners sought out grain free foods, but they see those percentages rising as more and more owners become inundated with marketing that focuses on promoting grain free foods.

Mergers and acquisitions will push better pet care

Early this year, news broke regarding a $9.1 billion deal where Mars Inc. agreed to acquire VCA Inc., which is a company that operates the largest chain of veterinary hospitals in North America. Mars, a company that already owned three veterinary hospital networks as well as Pedigree, Caesars, and Royal Canin food companies, will only strengthen the company’s position in this market.

Those involved in the merger, which is set to close this fall, believe the deal will provide veterinarians with expanded training, which will have great benefits for pet medicine and the well being of pets throughout the U.S.

It’s unlikely a merger of this size would occur if the behavior of pet owners had not evolved like it has over the last two decades. Americans are treating their pets more like family members, and it shows in what they are willing to do to care for the pets’ health.

It was around this time last year that another big merger was taking place and is still being rolled out. Ethos Veterinary Health announced they were forming a new company, which is a result of a merger between IVG hospitals, Premier Veterinary Group, Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital and Veterinary Specialty Hospital. They believe the merger will build a national model that leverages collective experience to advance medicine for patients and develop innovative business solutions. Ethos specializes in advanced medicine and high quality care, particularly in surgery, oncology, neurology, cardiology and internal medicine.

Pet celebrities on the rise

Pet celebrities are nothing new – think of Rin Tin Tin, the German Shepard who became a film star in the 1920s, or Lassie, the Collie that had a television show in the 1950s and 1960s. However, thanks to the growing popularity and the humanization of pets, more pets are getting their “15 minutes” of fame.

Ever heard of Grumpy Cat? You probably have, and that’s why some are estimating that this viral sensation is worth upwards of $100 million. It all started with a simple post on Reddit by Grumpy Cat’s owner, and now there are stuffed animals, posters, T-shirts, cards, coffee mugs, wrapping paper – pretty much anything that can be sold with Grumpy Cat’s hilariously scowling face on it. While the cat’s owner said the $100 million worth estimate of the cat through merchandizing and appearances is an exaggeration, others say it’s closer to $50 million – which is still an amazing figure.

A scary video of a dog attacking a young child has also gone viral. Fortunately, this one has a happy ending – a cat named Tara came to the rescue and fought the dog off. With more than 17 million hits in the first few days of being posted online, Tara shot to immediate fame. The Washington Post estimated that Tara (and her owner) earns between $55,500 and $400,000-plus a year.

Let’s face it – animals do cute things, and everybody has a camera on them these days, so the celebrity pets getting big-money product endorsements and a bunch of limelight will only become more pervasive.

Look for more animal-loving celebrities to advocate for pets

Celebrities are increasingly excellent ambassadors for pets. Actors, actresses and sports phenoms use their star status to advocate for animal rights and supporting rescue animals.

Hilary Swank, a two-time Oscar winning actress, established the Hilaroo Foundation, which connects troubled youth with rescue animals to “heal one another through rescue, rehabilitation and responsibility training.”

Ellen DeGeneres, a daytime talk queen, is nothing short of a business mogul these days. Her name and brand has recently been linked to a comprehensive pet line whose products will be available through PetSmart. The move is only natural as she and her partner have three dogs and three cats at their home.

Rachel Ray, also a daytime talk show host known for her cooking abilities, jumped into the pet food industry last year with Nutrish, her line of healthy pet food. However, this isn’t a profit generator for Ray – it’s a philanthropic venture meant to help rescue animals. Her previous efforts have raised more than $14 million to assist a number of organizations focused on the benefit of animals, including the ASPCA.

Technology and its affect on improving the bond between human and pet

Garmin might be known for its GPS navigation devices, but the company has also developed a line of products related to pets. Nobody enjoys the constant barking of an over-alert dog, so Garmin has come up with a few products that humanely assist in limiting nuisance barking. The technology also includes a “bark odometer,” which lets the owner know how many times the dog barked while they were away.

Garmin is just one of many companies entering the fray. Dog walking software, like Pet Check, gives dog walking businesses tools to help them manage their business, but it also offers pet owners a mobile app that allows them to track their dog as it’s being walked.

Petzi, a web camera and treat dispenser, lets pet owners keep an eye on their pets while at work. The owner can also use their smartphone or tablet computer to release treats remotely. Petcube is a similar device, but this one includes a laser pointer that allows the owner to interact with their cat(s) while away.

There is also WonderWoof, a Bluetooth-enabled bowtie that monitors dogs’ movement throughout the day. The app will tell the owner if the dog is getting enough exercise based on size, breed, gender and age. It’s technology like this that allows pet owners to take a more active roll in their pet’s health.

Pet healthcare becoming more available

The U.S. pet insurance industry is also making huge gains as more pet owners invest in health insurance for their beloved cats, dogs and other domesticated animals. By the end of 2014, around 1.4 million pets in the U.S. and Canada were covered by a health insurance plan. According to Consumer Reports, pet insurance is among the fastest growing optional employee benefits, which means the number of insured pets is ready to skyrocket.

Thanks in part to loan repayment programs, more people are entering veterinary school, which means the amount of vets across the country is increasing to help keep up with the growing number of pets. A veterinary consultant tied to a number of prominent pet associations said the number of vets increased by 78 percent between 1991 and 2011, which is very encouraging.

Due to the improvements in medicine, pets are living longer. A Pet Health report from Banfield Pet Hospital, which has hospitals throughout the U.S., says the average lifespan of a dog in 2002 was 10.5 years. The report, published in 2016, says the average is now up to 11.8 years.

Unfortunately, longer lifespans come with the usual maladies of aging, including bad joints, poor eyesight, deafness, etc. Hydrotherapy for dogs has emerged as an excellent method for keeping muscle tone in dogs suffering from bad joints. However, hydrotherapy is also a useful tool for post-operative recovery or pre-operative conditioning.

Elderly dogs are prone to weight gain as their activity and metabolism decrease, which is why more attention is being paid to enhancing the nutrition in the diet while decreasing portion sizes. Since around 65 percent of dogs age seven or above suffer from arthritis, diet supplements like elk velvet antler have become popular for offering more mobility.

Laser therapy has also emerged as a way to fight the effects of aging. Using lasers is a popular alternative to drugs used to battle arthritis, some of which can have terrible side effects. Lasers are also used to treat tendon and soft tissue injuries, and to promote wound healing.

Anyone with a smartphone or tablet computer can use Skype of Facetime to talk to their friends and family, but now they can use the live streaming services to consult with a veterinarian. VetOnDemand is one such service. And while it’s not as thorough as a hands-on examination, it’s a convenience that pet owners concerned about less serious health issues in their pets are happy to engage in.

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