By Susan Doktor
Safe to say, it would take pretty much everyone a mere minute to come up with a long list of how our lives have changed since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Researchers are studying and quantifying the many ways the virus has influenced our actions and our feelings. Perhaps because we’re spending more time at home with our families, many Americans report their relationships have deepened, despite the stresses of living under lockdown. Now, a new study by Money.com, conducted in cooperation with leading research firm Morning Consult, reveals that other relationships are flourishing, too: the ones we have with our pets.
Pet Ownership Is More Popular Than Ever
You know that friend of yours—or perhaps your animal-adoring kid—who has always wanted a pet? Chances are good that he or she has one now. Some 72% of respondents to the Money.com survey reported they’d always wanted a pet and the global pandemic inspired them to take the plunge.
The context for Money.com’s survey is both significant and surprising. Pet ownership has surged across the nation. The number of pet adoptions in the US soared by more than 30% with the onset of COVID-19, leaving many pet shelters in a remarkable position: many ran out of pets. Long adoption waiting lists became common as more people—with more time on their hands—lined up to adopt. Breeders of purebred animals also witnessed a spike in business.
Not having ample time or a flexible enough schedule to care for a pet properly, a frequently-cited reason for passing on pet ownership, suddenly was less of a deterrent to bringing a pet home, as COVID-19 created a new stay-at-home workforce. Money.com’s research revealed that 68% of respondents decided to pick out a furry companion for that very reason: simply because they had more time.
A Nation in Puppy Love
Money probed respondents’ motivations for jumping into pet ownership further and discovered that loneliness drove 52% of them to their decision. With bars and ballparks closed due to the pandemic and extended family gatherings curtailed, isolation took its emotional toll and sent us running to the comfort and unconditional love pets offer. According to Paul Reynolds, an insurance editor for Money.com, pet parents saw their pets’ love and then raised it. “People are cherishing their pets even more deeply than before, with half or more of survey respondents saying they value their animal companions more now and have more affection for them.” The bond between pets and their parents, while always durable, was hardened, as it turns out, by tenderness as pets and their humans weathered the strain of the pandemic together.
How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Money
Love is hard to measure. But just as we often lavish gifts on the people we hold dearest—even if it’s just a batch of homemade cookies—some researchers have found that we’re spending more on our pets, too. A study conducted by PetfoodIndustry found that a fifth of pet owners report spending more on their pets since the pandemic began. Premium pet food sales are up in the age of COVID-19. Chewy.com, one of the most successful online pet supplies retailers in the US, saw a revenue gain of 45% in the third quarter of 2020. That increase followed two previous quarters of over 50% growth. The company’s success, of course, should be taken in context. Online shopping in every category has increased due to the infection risks of leaving home to visit neighborhood stores.
Love Means Never Having to Say No to Vet Care
Another barrier to pet ownership has long been the cost of pet healthcare. The average golden retriever owner spends over $1000 per year on his or her four-legged friend. The average cat owner spends about $800. And veterinary bills make a Great Dane-size portion of those costs. Sadly, that’s why many genuinely beloved pets don’t get the care they need and many are euthanized when they’re seriously ill or injured. The cost of veterinary services increased by 85% in two decades’ time, outpacing the rate of inflation by more than half.
But the proliferation of pet insurance companies and plans and market competition is beginning to change all that. The best pet insurance plans cover prescription medicines for your mutt, lab tests for your Labrador, and life-saving surgeries and cancer care for their fuzzy customers. Some of the largest people insurance companies, including Nationwide and Allstate, have jumped into the pet insurance category. Pet insurance is in such high demand that many employers are offering it as an optional part of their benefits packages—nearly a third of all Fortune 500 companies and 15% of employers overall, in fact. The pet insurance industry is currently valued at over $2 billion and, according to industry analysts, is slated for steady growth over the next several years.
But while pet owners may gripe out their vet bills, veterinarians continue to earn pet owners’ trust. Money.com found that 74% would follow their vets’ advice for treatment. How much treatment? More than 80% of survey respondents said they’d spend whatever amount they could afford to save one of their pets’ lives. Another 67% confirmed that they’d spend any amount of money period to keep their cherished companions alive and well. If that’s not love, what is?
Over the past year, we’ve suffered losses. We’ve been tested emotionally and economically. There may not be many silver linings to the COVID-19 cloud, but more of us are reaching for—and discovering—the healing power of pets. Scientifically proven and witnessed by countless personal stories, our pets’ contribution to our mental and physical well-being is one way we’re surviving these unprecedented times.
Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and principal at Branddoktor. She writes on a wide range of topics, including finance, technology, and pets, and is owned by a 4-year old golden retriever breeding program drop-out. Follow Susan on Twitter @branddoktor.