Looking back: Pet acquisition, wellness during a pandemic

2020’s COVID-19 pandemic created many shifts in the pet industry; among them is pet ownership itself, including adoptions and fosters from multiple channels.

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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 anticipated in Packaged Facts’ “U.S. Pet Market Outlook” (March 2020), “The brightest note for the pet industry during the age of coronavirus is the possibility pet adoption and ownership will surge during the crisis and its aftermath, and there is historical precedent for pet adoption increasing during times of emotional and economic duress.” While the combination of public health, economic and political crisis of 2020 proved (and hopefully will remain) unique, the pet industry in the year of pandemic more than earned its historic reputation for being recession resistant.

Investments are up; pet ownership has played a role

As a result of market growth and resilience in the face of all challenges, pet industry investment activity and strategic corporate restructuring entered boom mode by the end of 2020. The nuts and bolts of this boom are simple. Pet ownership levels are the bedrock of the pet industry, and the expanding range of pet health and well-being concerns weighs in as the other key driver of market growth. Both these drivers were fueled by the impacts of COVID-19, including stay-at-home and work-from-home periods.

Packaged Facts’ year-end survey of pet owners shows that approximately 25% of dog or cat owners added a pet to their household in 2020. Among those who acquired or adopted pets, 15% reported doing so at least partly due to COVID-19. Acquiring a pet in any way other than a pet shelter, welfare or rescue organization was the more common mode, at 15% of dog owners and 17% of cat owners, versus 12% of dog owners and 14% of cat owners adopting through a pet shelter, welfare or rescue organization (see Table 1). In addition, 8% of dog owners and 7% of cat owners fostered a pet through such organizations.

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TABLE 1: Many people took the opportunity to add a pet to their household during COVID-19 lockdowns and pandemic shifts that led to things like working from home.

Pet acquisition tilted toward multi-pet households and, especially, to households with children:

  • Among dog owners who added dogs(s) to the household, 47% also have pet cats, compared with 36% of dog owners who did not add dogs in 2020.
  • Among cat owners who added cat(s) to the household, 64% also have pet dogs, compared with 47% of cat owners who did not add cats in 2020.
  • Among dog owners with children under age 18, 48% added a dog to the household in 2020, compared with 15% of dog owners without children in the home.
  • Among cat owners with children under age 18, 54% added a cat to the household in 2020, compared with 16% of cat owners without children in the home.

With these pet acquisition and adoption dynamics, 8% of current dog owners and 6% of current cat owners are new, first-time pet owners. In addition, 13% of dog owners have puppies and 18% of cat owners have kittens (defined as pets under one year old).

COVID-19 and pet well-being

In tandem with its impact on pet population and acquisition, COVID-19 has deepened concerns over and attention to pet well-being. Our year-end survey shows that 42% of dog owners and 43% of cat owners report “paying closer attention” to their pet’s health and wellness specifically because of COVID-19 (see Table 2). As elements of this increased attention to pet wellness, nearly one-fourth of dog or cat owners are especially concerned about their pets experiencing anxiety and stress, and one-fifth of dog or cat owners are especially concerned about their pets’ immune system health. Correspondingly, one in six dog or cat owners have made changes to the pet health care products they purchase.

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TABLE 2: As the pandemic causes people to look for closely at their own health and wellness, they’re taking a more detailed look at their pets’, as well.

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