love pets

Millennials Love Pets With Their Wallets, Hearts, And Instagram Accounts

Image courtesy of Nguyen Hoangman via Flickr

Pets: are they furry prisoners, or part of the family? Freeloaders, or coddled babies? Houseguests, or vital constituents? Increasingly it seems they are the latter, and the amount we spend on them all but proves it.

Humans have been enjoying the company of domesticated, half-domesticated, and undomesticated creatures for thousands of years, in and outside of the home, bed, and lap.

But it appears that pet appreciation is increasing, especially among younger generations. This is mostly good thing for animals themselves, though “pet parents” end up spending a heck of a lot of money in the meantime.

Millennials love pets

Pet industries were worried that the decline of pet-loving Baby Boomers would spell trouble, but it turns out these fears were misplaced. In 2015, the Millennial generation surpassed the Boomers in pet ownership, 35.2 percent to 32.8.

Among Millennial households, 57 percent have a pet, with an additional 20 percent intending to get a dog or cat soon. This means younger people are getting pets sooner, before or in lieu of more traditional life changes like marriage and kids.

Studies show that Millennials also pamper their pets more, spend more on pet services and care, and make more socially-conscious (read: organic, expensive) purchases.

Americans love pets like people

Some call this shift the humanization of pets, in which animals have been increasingly considered part of the family in America over the last 40 years.

It’s not just among Millennials, though as the youngest adult generation, we are seeing them manifest the attitude in the extreme. Generally speaking, though, the breakdown of the nuclear family has led to an uptick in pet ownership in singles, whether by those divorced or unmarried by choice or chance.

Other adults are choosing to have small dogs instead of babies (they’re arguably just as cute, and won’t talk back or need a college education). Meanwhile, pet insurance is the fastest growing insurance type due to high veterinary costs.

Petco loves that you love pets, wants your money

Americans in particular are forecasted to spend $76.6 billion on pets in 2015, up from $62.7 in 2010, and $47.2 bn in 2005. This steady increase was unaffected by even the recession.

According to Petco, which recently filed to go public,  “this “humanization” trend drives demand for premium products and services, leading to higher levels of spending per pet.”  And they’re not wrong: Americans spent roughly $1,150 per household on pets in 2014.

Because Millennials are a driving force of sales, Petco will target digital-savvy owners with online services, customized products, and social media content (so that animal selfies remain on fleek). 

After all, a surprising amount of pets have social media profiles. Some are even viral sensations.

Do we love pets responsibly?

Just because more people are owning and flaunting their appreciation for pets doesn’t mean this love is always responsible or long-lasting.

We talk about “humanization,” and yet America still euthanizes millions of pets, millions more are abandoned yearly, pet obesity is rising, and a concerning amount of owners are neglecting to get pets vet care they need.

Almost half of sheltered animals don’t get adopted, and yet people continue to buy from puppy mills. In other words, we love pets, but many care more about the “cute factor” than saving lives. 

There’s also the issue of end of life care, and the tricky negotiation between euthanizing too soon, or letting animals suffer to put off losing them.

The point? Pets as family may be a growing trend, and a good one at that, but it’s one that should not be taken as lightly, as say, jeggings.

They may not pay rent, but pets help people stay happy and healthy. It stands to reason we should do the same for them. 

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Jennifer Markert