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Cost of Companionship: Pet Spending in the US

Americans may not be the greatest budgeters (the total consumer debt in the U.S. is nearly $4.2 trillion), but that doesn’t stop us from continually pampering our beloved pets. In fact, pet spending is expected to reach $99 billion in 2020. In this article we analyze and answer who is spoiling their four-legged friends the most: dog owners or cat owners? Is a particular generation more generous than others? And when people bring home the latest pet-related haul, what really costs the most? How is the pandemic affecting the way we spend on our pets?

We took a new look at the American pet industry by asking 993 dog and/or cat owners about their spending behaviors. If you’re a pet owner, are considering owning a pet, or just want to see how much people love their furry friends, keep reading to see what we uncovered.

Caring for Pets During a Pandemic

As Americans shift to the routine of working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are also spending more time than ever with their pets. For many pets, this means getting pampered more, according to our supplementary survey of 996 pet owners. Though around half of all pet owners are trying to keep their budgets steady, 36% reported spending more money than ever on heartwarming reasons: improving their pet’s health and happiness. That seems an appropriate reward for the mental health benefits of having a pet, as over half of all pet owners reported their animal companion as having an extremely positive impact on their mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

One of the more surprising results of the current pandemic, which has shut down much of the country and forced many Americans to isolate in their homes, is the surge in pet adoption and fostering. According to our survey of pet owners, 25% of them adopted or fostered a pet during COVID-19. And though many people are also anticipating a return to work and possibly another change in routine, 72% of those who fostered during COVID-19 said they’re keeping their pet as a permanent member of the family.

Paying by Pet Type

When it comes to spending on your pets, we also wanted to consider people’s typical habits, outside of the extraordinary experience of a pandemic and the self-isolation that occurs along with it. First, we looked at how much dog and cat owners spent on their pets. In the past year, dogs cost their owners an average of $1,193, whereas cats ran an average tab of $569. To put this into perspective, we also asked respondents how much they had spent on themselves in the past year, to which the average answer was $2,600.

Although cat owners may not have spent as much as dog owners overall, millennials and female respondents told a slightly different story. These two demographics spent a little more on their feline friends, $54 more than baby boomers and $39 more than men, respectively. Women also spent more on their dogs than men, surpassing their expenditure by $94 annually.

Pet Prizes

Next, we looked at how dog and cat owners spent their money. Necessary expenditures took up the bulk of the budget, with food and bathroom supplies costing an average of $353 for dog owners and $279 for cat owners annually.

Veterinary care also cost dog owners $352 and cat owners $308 each year, while medicine or vitamins added another $234 and $149, respectively. In 2019, $29.3 billion went toward vet care and related product sales.

Less essential purchases did exist, however, particularly among millennials. This generation spent more annually ($140 on dogs and $83 on cats) than other generations. When it came to dog toys, Gen Xers spent $126, while baby boomers and older generations reported spending $106 per year, on average. Toys for feline companions averaged $79 and $70 annually for Gen Xers and baby boomers or older generations, respectively.

Indulging Expenditures

Very few pet owners were able to say their cats and dogs weren’t spoiled. Only 15% of dog owners and 17% of cat owners denied they spoiled their pets.

Annual spending as a percentage of income was noticeably higher for nonspoiled dogs (5.6%) than it was for cats (2.9%).

The spoiling of a pet was most noticeable in two key areas: essential supplies such as food, litter, dog waste bags, and veterinary care/grooming. Essential supplies also cost a considerable chunk of money for pet owners: $355 for dogs and $249 for cats.

Subscription boxes appeared to be a form of spoiling relegated specifically to dogs. Even dog owners who didn’t consider their pets to be spoiled still spent an average of $299 annually on these types of monthly items. Subscription boxes (e.g., BarkBox or PupBox) often offer dogs and their owners a range of surprise items, such as toys, grooming products, and even vitamins. Our survey didn’t have enough data to explore cat subscription boxes, but services like meowbox offer toys and treats for feline friends.

To Go Generic, or Not to Go Generic

Seventy percent of those who bought generic products for themselves did the same for their beloved pets. For brand-name food, in particular, dog and cat owners were relatively similar in approach: Spoiled dogs and cats feasted on brand-name food 85% and 84% of the time, respectively. According to the FDA, dogs and cats will obtain the vitamins and minerals they need from commercially processed pet food, but other people may suggest vitamins for everything from longevity to good breath.

Prioritizing Pets

The love that respondents had for their pets ultimately translated into dollars and cents. Pampered pets ran quite the tab for their owners, who seemed more than willing to oblige.

If pet ownership is calling you, but you’re unsure about being able to afford everything that comes with the responsibility, CouponFollow is here to help. CouponFollow alleviates some of life’s biggest costs in one easy-to-use digital space. You can save big on popular pet brands with PetCo coupons or coupons from other top online pet retailers like PetSmart and Chewy.com.

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed dog and cat owners via Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked them how much they spent on the groups in our project. Using that, we determined their total spend. We asked them to estimate their spending in the last six months and doubled that to get the average annual spending presented in this project. We also launched a supplemental survey of 996 pet owners to understand the impact of a pet during the pandemic, as well as fostering and adoption trends.

We had 561 cat owners and 753 dog owners. People could have multiple pets and one of each. A total of 993 people completed our original survey. Of those, 526 were women, and 462 were men. There were 543 millennials, 275 Gen Xers, and 134 baby boomers. The remaining respondents were either older or younger than these generations, and their sample size was not significant enough to include in generational breakouts.

For the visual on spending, based on spoiling pets, there was not a significant sample size for cat owners who spent money on subscription boxes/clothes.

This survey is based on self-reporting, which comes with limitations, such as over- or under-reporting. The information presented in this project is not weighted.

Fair Use Statement

We’re assuming you know a dog owner, cat owner, or both who could stand to benefit from the knowledge in this survey. Feel free to share these numbers with whomever online, but be sure your purposes are noncommercial, and you link back to this page.

about the author

CouponFollow Team
CouponFollow Team
The CouponFollow content team produces content about top savings hacks, frugal tips, and in-depth research about the coupon industry.