Fast-growing pet care market is reflective of human trends

Pets, no longer just sidekicks for kids, are being treated as valuable members of the family, leading some to wonder who exactly owns whom.

Pets, no longer just sidekicks for kids, are being treated as valuable members of the family, leading some to wonder who exactly owns whom.

Americans are now spending nearly $41 billion a year on their pets, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, up about $10 billion from five years ago.

Pet owners are "becoming increasingly demanding consumers who won't put up with substandard products, unstimulating environments, or shoddy service for their animals," as reported a few weeks ago in BusinessWeek.

Not only do 42% of dogs sleep in the same bed as their owners, but their menus also reflect the same trends that appear in human foods, including organic, vegan, and gourmet meals. There are the $1,200 collars and other luxury goods, but at the other extreme, pet healthcare - depression medication, psychotherapy, high-tech cancer surgery, advanced cosmetic procedures - is developing into a fast-growing niche market.

Why does it matter?

"Pet care is no longer a fledgling market," says Douglas Bell, co-chair of the new animal care practice at Fleishman-Hillard. "It's a $40 billion market that stands on its own now."
The emotional attachment to animals is leading to a greater emphasis on care and products, Bell says.

"Animals are finding their ways into all aspects of their owners' lives... where animals are not just pets, but something that's a bigger part of our lives," he adds. "People are creating animal heath spas and resorts, accessories for animals, or needs for animals who suffer from the same things that humans do."

The pet industry is also reaching out to niches, such as the gay, lesbian, and singles communities, where pets are often considered part of the family. It's also reaching the dating community, where many couples are seen adopting pets together.

"It's real simple: There's the dollars and cents of it, but it's also a trend," Bell says, pointing to the example of socialite Paris Hilton carrying her dog as an accessory.

Five facts:

1 About 63% of households in the US, or 71 million homes, now own at least one pet. That figure is up from 64 million just five years ago.

2 With more new pet products launched in the first six months of 2006 than in all of 2005, pet care is the fastest-growing category in retail after consumer electronics.

3 New York's first Pet Fashion Week launched last August as a trade show for national and international pet lifestyle exhibitors and distributors.

4 Cosmetic offerings like rhinoplasty and eye lifts, and dental procedures, such as root canals, braces, and crowns, are becoming more popular for pets.

5 PetSmart is rolling out "pet hotels" in its stores (pictured), which feature private suites with raised platform beds and TVs airing Animal Planet shows for $31 a night.


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