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Record Number of Owners Consider Pets Family


Amy Lieberman
New poll reports nine out of ten people say pets are four-legged family members.

More than ever, Americans -- now three in five, totaling about 60 percent -- are choosing to have pets. And more than ever, Americans say they consider these pets as more than just dogs, cats, gerbils and parakeets: they are just another family member, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Polling this fall.

The online survey found nine out of 10 pet owners consider their pet to be a part of the family, as 94 percent of dog owners and 91 percent of cat owners reported in the poll, the findings of which were first released in mid-September.

About half of pet owners say they often allow their pet to sleep in the bed with them, while only about 22 percent of pet owners say they pets are normally relegated to their own sleeping areas.

About one third of pet owners frequently buy holiday gifts for their pet, while another three in 10 occasionally splurge for their dogs and cats around the holiday season. When it comes to birthdays, 18 percent of people frequently buy their pets birthday presents, while 22 percent occasionally do.

The statistics, based off the polling of 2,634 adults, aren't surprising to Kristen Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

"There's definitely been a trend over the past several years that people, as our culture and society has changed, so have our lifestyles, and we have elevated our pets to be true members of the family," Theisen told Zootoo in a phone interview. "We hear anecdotal evidence all the time that supports this information."

People's love for their pets or companion animals extends to how much they are willing to spend on keeping them as healthy as possible, says Theisen.

"People are more interested in vet care and feeding their pets a great diet -- and helping them have a very healthy fitness routine," she explained. "Those are the sorts of things that segue into investing more of our money into the good care of our animals."

Pet owners are projected to spend $52.87 million on their pets in 2012, more than the $50.96 they spent in 2011, according to the annual Associated Pet Product Association, or APPA. That marks a sharp increase from the $28.5 million pet owners spent on their pets in 2001.

About 62 percent of U.S. households are estimated to have pets, totaling to about 72.9 million homes, according to the APPA.

Theisen notes how during Hurricane Sandy, the post-tropical cyclone that recently hit New York City and New Jersey, affecting about 8 million people, evacuation shelters kept their doors open to pets. That's not the way it was seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, forcing people to flee from their flooded homes.

"Since Katrina, it's been more understood that it is important that animals are allowed to go with their families," Theisen said. "It's a clear sign to show how much more the value of our animals is being acknowledged and how we do not see them as someone or something that can be left behind."

There are challenges to treating a pet like just another family member, says Theisen -- veterinary costs remain high and unaffordable for many Americans, for example, and the care can sometimes be inaccessible. For this reason, HSUS' Pets for Life initiative is working to bring affordable pet care to communities across the U.S.

How do you show your pet that he's a part of the family? Share your thoughts below!

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