Americans love their fuzzy, scaly, and feathery friends, and they back up that love by spending a lot of money. In 2019, Americans spent a record $95.7 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Association's 2019-20 National Pet Owners Survey.
While pet owners might expect vet bills to cost the most, the number one expense for pet owners is actually food.
Pet owners are spending way more on food than they used to: They spent $36.9 billion to feed their pets last year, nearly double what they spent in 2009. Veterinary care, the second biggest yearly expense, costs owners an average of $29.3 billion.
Experts say the kinds of food available, and changes in the relationship between pets and their humans, are behind this boost in spending. Luckily, though, they say you don't need to break the bank to give your pets the best care.
Over the past 30 years or so, human-pet relationships have grown closer, says Nancy Gee, a psychiatry professor and director of The Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University.
This trend is known as the "humanization of pets." It's more common to view our four-legged friends as fully fledged members of our family, not simply animals, and that means pet owners are willing to spend more. Our pets "live in our homes with us, and we do things with them, and we're much more closely bonded with them," explains Gee.
Video by David Fang
Accordingly, a wider range of high-quality, and higher-priced, pet foods have hit the market in recent years. Many kinds are similar to what people want to feed themselves, including grain-free, gluten-free, and raw food options, says Kristen Levine, president of Pet Living and FWV Fetching, a veterinary PR firm. Other varieties feature novel proteins like venison and cricket.
"There's no doubt, pets can get expensive, and food is one of those ongoing expenses you really don't want to skimp on. This doesn't mean you can't find ways to save," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "With a little research and comparison shopping, you can uncover deals on your pet's favorite meals."
Here are a few tips.
Even if Fido has developed a taste for venison, it can still be considered a luxury, not a necessity, especially during times when you may need to cut back.
Remind yourself if necessary that people who can afford expensive pet food aren't inherently better than those who can't. Like any loving parent, you should do the best you can and trust the people who know your pet's physiology better than you do to guide you.
At the end of the day, experts say, the best thing you can do for your pet is to give them the love and attention they need, including the kind that doesn't cost money.
"The bottom line is that they just want to spend time with us," says Gee.
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