One of the perks of having the job that I do is that people often ask my opinion about the latest pet products, which as an avid shopper is right up my alley. Being in the pet profession means being part of the $55 billion a year industry, so it’s no chump change. Yes, you read that right. We Americans spent fifty five billion dollars a year on our pets.
According to the American Pet Products Association, the breakdown is as follows: $21B on pet food, $13B on supplies, $14B on pet care, $4B on grooming and boarding, and $2B in live animal sales. With those numbers in play, it’s no surprise that manufacturers are scrambling on board to get a piece of that pie and make the next hit pet item.
Which leads to two questions, really. Why do we spend what we spend on our pets? And is it worth it?
To answer the first, one need look no further than your living room couch. As I write this, I have one cat perched on the top of the cushions, and a big hairy dog squished into the seat between me and my husband. The cat’s been a part of my life for 14 years now, through school, three moves, two kids, and five dogs. My life has changed dramatically, but he is not; he has remained a constant, black, glossy, and purry. The least I can do is keep him up-to-date on his thyroid medications and get him a new bed every one in a while. As for the dog? He’s needy, which we all know very well, but he keeps my children comforted when they are having nightmares and that alone is well worth every penny spent on his care.
Our pets are much more than the sum of their utility in the house. Ever increasingly, our society views pets as family members with all the attendant perks and privileges. In that light, the numbers spent aren’t surprising, especially when you consider the number of households with dogs in the US outweighs that number with children. We are head over heels crazy for our pets.
To answer the second question, it’s important to figure out exactly what it is that’s being discussed in order to determine whether it’s worth spending money on. Value is often in the eye of the beholder, particularly in the higher end ‘luxury’ market for pet items. While few people would argue the value of, say, dewormer in a puppy, hair extensions for a dog might be a harder sell. I often struggle to find the right tactic to take when it comes to some of the items many would view as silly, such as pet high chairs or dog-safe nail polish.
At the end of the day, I look at it this way: as long as it’s not hurting the pet and it makes the owner happy, I’m not going to complain. While I have no problems with a pet stroller for an arthritic dog, for example, I might protest someone who puts a young, healthy Chihuahua in one instead of letting them get much needed exercise by walking.
I recently watched a dog get a small highlight put in for an ABC segment on this very topic; the dye was non-toxic. The dog was ambivalent about the highlight and was content during the bath given to him beforehand. It makes no difference to him one way or the other. I doubt a stripe in his fur of which he is completely unaware would be damaging psychologically to his sense of self. Which is why I always hedge a little when people make blanket statements about the cruelty of spa treatments for pets; for some animals who really are stressed by the process, it’s not kind; but for the ones who don’t mind, I say, knock yourself out.
I suppose my view is skewed somewhat by the sad reality of neglect I have seen in my career, animals left to starve or languish in pain, abandoned or injured. That makes me sad. A well-loved dog with a tiny highlight in his hair that has no effect on his life one way or the other? He has an owner who adores him. To them I say, as long as your dog is safe, knock yourself out.