Pets Rule: New Survey Reveals Most People in America Have at Least One Pet


April, 2005

The pets are taking over. Only about a third of all U.S. households have a child under 18 years (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), compared to 63 per cent of all households who have at least one pet, according to the soon to be made public 2005-2006 American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA) National Pet Owners Survey.

The nationwide survey was conducted for the APPMA by polling company lpsos, Inc. in 2004. Consumers spent a record $36 billion on all pet products and services combined in 2004, easily doubling number spent ten years ago ($17 billion). “That’s the largest percent of growth I know of in any industry,” says Bob Vetere, chief operating officer and managing director of the APPMA, the industry trade association based in Greenwich, CT.

“How much we spend on our pets wasn’t impacted at all by the recent slow down in our economy and high tech problems,” says Vetere. “While science is now showing that living with pets is good for us, perhaps we’ve instinctively known this all along And 9/11 seemed give pet spending a boost, which is interesting. I’m no psychiatrist but I really believe – and the statistics show this – that since 9/11, we’ve needed to take comfort in our pets. In our insecure world, we feel secure with our pets. In a world of undependable people, our pets are consistently dependable.”

That $36 billion spent on pets in 2004 has become one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy, exceeding the dollars spent on hardware, which is surprising considering the home improvement and make-over craze. It’s also more money than Americans spent on jewelry or candy in 2004 (according to the U.S. Census bureau tracking of retail sales).

The APPMA Survey reports in 2004, $14 billion of that $36 billion was spent on pet foods and treats, easily surpassing the dollars spent on baby food.

“That’s no surprise,” says Vetere, “We have more pets in America than babies. Besides for millions of American report their pets (begin ital) are (end ital) their babies.” In fact, about 70 per of those surveyed with dogs or cats say their pets’ are definitely a family member, often as sort of surrogate children (18 per cent of reptile owners say their pets’ are family members, maybe like children but fewer than one per cent of fish owners’ compare their underwater friends to children).

Nine per cent of dog owners will throw a birthday bash of some sort for their canine, about half that number celebrate their cat’s big day. Although about a quarter of all dog owners will quietly buy a birthday gift for their dog, even if there is no party. And again, about half that number buy a gift for a cat’s birthday. Only four pet cent of reptile owners buy a special birthday gift for their lizard or snake. But then, they no doubt have a dilemma about what to buy their friend with scales.

Vetere says there are three pet product trends. “High-end manufacturers are successfully making similar products for animals. There’s a $20,000 Gucci dog bed, $5,000 diamond studded dog collars and OPI nail polish for pets. People are spending the money and buying this stuff.”

second trend is using technology to assist people at maintaining their pets, for training and improving quality of life, often times making it more possible for seniors to more easily live with companion animals. Examples include electronic fencing devices, automatic litter boxes, running water bowls and even dvd’s for pets to watch when their people aren’t home.

The third trend is a fashion industry for pets, including sweaters, rain gear, sunglasses, booties and even helmets. Vetere reports, “Its seems Navy blue is the new ‘in’ color, but pink is still popular.”

Vetere also points out that the old adage about cats and dogs feuding just isn’t true. In fact, count yourself among the trendy if you happen to have at least one cat and at least one dog living together. According to the APPMA survey, there are 43 million households with a dog and 37 million with a cat; and 17.8 million of those have both at least one dog and at least one cat living together, presumably without necessitating the services of former president Jimmy Carter to make peace.

“It’s because of merging families coming together, say after a divorce or maybe a widow or widower,” says Vetere. “And these days, it’s love me and love my pet. So, if you take me, you have to take my cat with the package, that’s even if you happen to have a dog, a parrot, ferret, or whatever. Also, couples are getting married later. As singles they may have had different species, and now come together with a total package of say a dog, a cat and a ferret – or whatever the combination is.”

Cats are still the most popular pet; there are 90 million cats (an increase of five per cent over the past four years) and 74 million dogs (an increase of three per cent over the past four years).

No surprise, companionship reported as by far the number one reason for owning most kinds of pets (fish and reptiles are exceptions). Interestingly, the biggest drawback to having most kinds of pets is that they die too early. Cleaning up is the biggest complaint among those who have fish or small animals, such as rabbits and Guinea pigs.

There must be more smelly cats out there than Phoebe on the TV show “Friends” can sing about; 27 per cent of cat owners complain their cat is too smelly. The second biggest complaint among dog owners are the 37 per cent who say they have problems finding care for them when they’re on vacation.

“Overall, what’s clear is that pets absolutely continue to become members of our familes,” Vetere adds.