Pets as mood boosters: ‘secret sauce’ for pet food success

The pet food and pet care industries will emerge from this year whole and healthy thanks to what pets contribute to our mental and emotional well-being.

(LightField Studios |
(LightField Studios |

Like many people spending more time at home this year, I’ve been watching a little more TV, and a commercial for a top-selling cat food has caught my eye. Mainly, I admit, because the gray cat in it resembles my kitty, Deacon, but also because the spot offers a humorous take on our devotion to our pets – another reminder of why and how the pet industry can emerge from this year whole and healthy.

In the spot, the cat is snuggling on the couch with a mom; you quickly find out she’s a mom because a child calls out from elsewhere in the house, saying he fell. The mom casually replies that there are band-aids in the bathroom cabinet, followed by the child’s lament, “But I’m bleeding!” The mom’s response, as she continues to cuddle with her furry family member? “OK, grab two.” Then she feeds the cat.

I immediately thought of this commercial when I saw results from a recent pet owner survey conducted by Freshpet. One of the lead data points: 44% of female respondents said they would choose to quarantine with their cat or dog in the event of a second COVID-19-driven lockdown, if they had to choose just one companion to stay home with. On the other hand, 47% of male respondents said they would choose their significant other.

Perhaps the male respondents were answering in the way they thought people would expect, while those female respondents were being more honest? I confess: While my husband was also working from home during the first COVID-19 lockdown, I sometimes preferred Deacon’s company over his! We were just used to a little more space and time apart, especially during the day.

Yet the fact that so many women would respond to the survey question that way says a lot – possibly about the state of human relationships now (way outside the scope of this blog and website!) but also about the power of pets in people’s lives, especially during times of crisis.

More pets to spread the love

We all know that pet adoption rates have spiked since the pandemic began. Petfinder, an online pet adoption resource, experienced a 122% increase in adoption inquiries from March 15 to April 15, 2020, compared to the four weeks prior, according to Joe Toscano, vice president of trade and industry development at Purina. (Purina owns Petfinder.)

And it wasn’t just inquiries about adoption that increased significantly; it was also actual adoptions. In a survey conducted by Packaged Facts in late April/early May 2020, 8% of U.S. pet owners said they had adopted a pet specifically because of the pandemic, out of 10% of respondents adopting pets in the previous three months. Packaged Facts expects the number of pet-owning households in the U.S. to end up at 4% for 2020 over 2019, according to its report “U.S. Pet Market Outlook 2020-2021 (June 2020 Update).”

Continuing the positive news on the adoption front, in the Freshpet survey, 38% of respondents said they want to get a new pet to keep their existing pets company when they return to work outside of the home. That’s because 55% said they’ll feel guilty for leaving their pets alone when they go back to the out-of-home workplace.

That guilt at least partially represents recognition of what our pets have contributed to our health –particularly mental and emotional – during the pandemic. In the Freshpet survey, a full 83% of owners said spending time with their pets during lockdown improved their moods. (Even more so than online shopping or spending time with a significant other – that relationship thing again!)

Proof: pets benefit human well-being

I can completely identify with and confirm the mood boosts I’ve received from Deacon these past several months, much more so than usual, and I imagine most pet owners feel the same. In fact, I’m surprised the percentage in the survey wasn’t higher than 83.

Thanks to efforts by several entities, spearheaded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative, we now have a growing body of science-based research to prove what pet owners have long known: Our pets benefit our well-being. That is truly the “secret sauce” to the health and strength of the pet food and pet care industries in both “normal” times and ones like what we’re experiencing now.


View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.




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