Pandemic new pet boom myth busted; Adoptions lower 2021-22

The lingering COVID-19 pandemic may not have caused a dramatic increase in new pet dogs, cats and other animals in the United States.

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The global pandemic in 2020 led to some positive shifts in pet ownership. | (ManuRodmez | Shutterstock.com)
The global pandemic in 2020 led to some positive shifts in pet ownership. | (ManuRodmez | Shutterstock.com)

As Petfood Industry first reported in late 2020, the lingering COVID-19 pandemic did not cause a dramatic increase in adoptions of pet dogs, cats and other animals in the United States. Cascadia Capital’s report “Pet Industry Overview: Fall 2022” documented pet population patterns from January 2020 to September 2022.

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“Reviewing shelter data, and ignoring the seasonality of the cat population due to summer being peak kitten season, the underlying pet adoption trends appear largely unchanged,” Cascadia’s analysts wrote. “In 2Q20 the dog shelter population fell by [approximately] 20,000 and the foster population grew by [approximately] 5,000, supporting the media narrative of increased take rates. However, these changes did not move the needle and looking at longer-term trends, pet adoptions were down 200,000 overall one year into the pandemic. Two years into the pandemic and pet adoptions have remained largely flat.”


In September 2022, pet adoptions from shelters remained lower than in December 2019, before the onset of the global pandemic, according to data from animal shelter data management agency Shelterwatch, formerly PetPoint. Throughout 2020, shelter pet adoptions declined. From January 2021 to September 2021, adoption numbers stagnated.


B2B media coverage of pet population in the pandemic

Cascadia’s report corroborated Petfood Industry’s earlier reporting that the demand for dogs and cats increased dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic, emptying pet adoption shelters. However, those shelters didn’t fill back up as movement restrictions limited the number of animals brought in. United States pet adoption rates remained high in 2020, but overall dog and cat adoption numbers remained lower than 2019, according to PetPoint (Shelterwatch). Much of the decline in overall pet adoption numbers resulted from fewer pets being available for adoption during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Between March 13 and September 18, 2020, the number of dogs and cats entering shelters decreased. Dog numbers fell by 34% and cats by 28%. Overall during that period, 951,667 dogs and cats entered shelters.

The pandemic caused a decline in overall numbers of pets adopted from shelters, while other dogs and cats found themselves shifting homes. Yet, the rate of pet adoptions seems to have grown. In a blog, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) presented data from 24PetWatch and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary showing that the percentage of pets in shelters being adopted increased in 2020 to 58.36%, up from 51.49% in 2019. 

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