Are pet adoptions truly rising? Pet food outlook for 2021

An increase in foster pets may mask an actual drop in pet adoptions, so it’s not certain they will boost overall pet ownership and pet food sales.

New shelter data casts doubt on whether the pet population and pet ownership are truly growing. | (Halfpoint |
New shelter data casts doubt on whether the pet population and pet ownership are truly growing. | (Halfpoint |

One of the few bright spots of 2020 has been a seeming increase in pet adoptions, as people sheltered at home during the pandemic with new cute, furry (feathered or scaled) companions. Market experts have even credited an adoption boom with helping raise sales of pet food and other pet supplies.

But, is the adoption surge real? In “Pet Industry Overview: Fall 2020” from investment firm Cascadia Capital, Managing Director Bryan Jaffe shared data from PetPoint showing that, through September 2020, dog and cat adoptions were down year-over-year by 25% overall, with a similar decline for dogs and cats entering shelters. What have risen are pet fostering rates, up 8% overall. The data is sourced from 1,200 animal welfare organizations, Jaffe wrote.

Thus, while consumer surveys from Packaged Facts and others reported 8% of respondents adopting a pet this year specifically due to COVID-19 and 10% of current U.S. pet owners acquiring another pet during the initial phase, it may be misleading to interpret that as a boost to pet population and product sales.

“Don’t buy all the COVID-19 adoption hype,” Jaffe cautioned. “While many shelters may be empty, constraints in movement for both intakes and outcomes over a long enough period does not allow for population growth.” He added that private sales and adoptions factor in, but not sufficiently enough to bridge the gap in pet population.

Whatever the state of pet adoptions or acquisitions, another recent survey showed U.S. pet ownership status holding steady, with only 2% of respondents having had to give up a pet through September 2020. The latest American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) “COVID-19 Pulse Study: Pet Ownership During the Pandemic” also revealed that 83% of respondents’ pet ownership situations have not changed, while 9% said they had adopted new pets. The source of the adoptions was not given, though the study did show 2% had fostered pets.

However, 10% of the owners surveyed said they may have to give up their pets, while 43% said the pandemic has significantly impacted their household’s finances, and 55% are very concerned about their finances over the next year.

How might this impact pet food spending? Only 18% of the owners surveyed by APPA said they plan to spend less money on pet food, given their current finances, while the same percentage plan to switch to a different brand to save money. On the flip side, 72% said that because of the importance of their pet’s diet, they don’t plan to make any changes to it regardless of their finances.

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