Pet Care During a Recession

No matter what we call it — slow times, recession, depression — we can all agree that the economy stinks in 2011. But pet families are upbeat.

A September 2011 study showed that 68% of dog families said the straggling economy didn’t effect their pet care spending. By: monkeymyshkin

Technically, the recession in the United States started in late 2007 and ended in the summer of 2009.

But with unemployment officially at 9.1% (the “real” rate is above 16%), the Dow losing nearly 900 points in the past 3 weeks and more Americans living in poverty now than in the past 20 years, some economists say we are headed for “a double dip” — a second recession that could be even worse than the first.

Let’s face it, though: No matter what we call it — hard times, recession, depression — we can all agree that right now the economy stinks.

Don’t Miss: How Much Do Americans Spend on Their Pets? Lots.

The Dog’s Trust calculates that having a dog as part of the family can cost a person an astounding $22,000 over the lifetime of the dog, a whopping figure that includes everything from meals, visits to the veterinarian, grooming, pet insurance, toys and treats.

This year, Americans are spending an estimated combined $51 billion on their pets — a record amount. With households tightening their belts during difficult economic times like we’ve experienced in the past few years, pet expenses really do add up.

Pet Care During a Recession

Believe it or not, people are not too concerned about pet care during a recession and seem to have a positive outlook:

  • A 2009 study found that 78% of cat families were continuing to provide normal expenses for their pets despite the Great Recession.
  • A study released in September 2011 showed that dog families felt the same way, with 68% of people saying the lagging economy has no effect on their pet care spending.

And get this: The number of pet caretakers is at an all-time high, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). The number of people who have pets (72.9 million households) has inched up 2.1% in the past 2 years.

Recession-battered pet families are making small purchases of pet products that provide as much happiness to them as to their pets, according to the APPA. “Their pets were a rock after a horrible day,” notes association president Bob Vetere. “And now, people are wanting to reward their pets.”

Although many pet families claim no difference in their pet care spending in this floundering economy, veterinarians and dog groomers say business is down. By: octavaria

Sometimes it can seem as if your pet is the only one who truly understands you — and now her loyalty is being repaid. Or is it…?

The Burden on Pet-Related Businesses

Veterinarians: It’s important to note that some veterinarians are reporting a different story. A few veterinarians we contacted tell us that many pet families are cutting back on things they consider to be “optional,” such as yearly vaccines and preventive medicine.

These vets add that more families opt for less-expensive treatments and refuse or put off diagnostic or nonessential services.

Pet foods: While pet food sales continue to produce positive growth, the growth rate is down.

Dog grooming, pet sitting, dog boarding, etc.: The businesses we contacted gave a mixed report on how the recession has affected their bottom lines, with most reporting minimal gains (and some saying business is way down).

So, how to explain the disconnect between what pet families are saying (“We’re not tightening our belts too much”) and what pet businesses are reporting (“Yes, they are”)? It could be hopeful optimism on the part of pet families.

Shelter Populations Are Growing

Meanwhile, animal shelters and rescue groups report an increase in their populations since 2008, as some people feel forced to give up their pets just to make ends meet.

“Some people are embarrassed, and they do want to say, ‘My home is foreclosed on,'” says Lyndsey Bruno of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. “It’s hard for people — it’s very emotional.”

Don’t Miss: 5 Expensive Veterinary Procedures That Can Be Avoided

To make matters worse, the increase in pet surrenders has been accompanied by a decrease in donations to the shelters.

A silver lining: Some (but certainly not all) animal shelters say the number of pet adoptions is actually increasing. “It seems people are having bigger hearts because of the economy,” says Brandi Bowers of the Berkeley County Humane Society in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Families Are Encouraged to Keep Pets

A website operated by the Humane Society urges down-and-out pet families, even those facing foreclosure on their house, to hold onto their animals till the bitter end.

The organization’s Stephanie Shain calls pets abandonment “not only irresponsible” but “illegal” as well. “Pet owners may feel financially unable to care for their pets,” she says, “but there are many alternatives to leaving pets behind.”

Plan ahead, as much as possible, for potential economic disasters. Search for pet-friendly apartments, for example.

Ways to Save Money on Pet Expenses

Here are some other money-saving tips for pet care during a recession:

  • Go comparison shopping for routine veterinary care and ask for only essential vet services.
  • Look for inexpensive toys and treats.
  • Save money on pet medications by shopping online — but only at trusted pharmacies that are accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Curious about the cost of pet health insurance? It’s more affordable than you probably think. Get your FREE, no-hassle quote here (affiliate link).

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past decade. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina. Dave has cared for a number of dogs, cats and other small pets over the years.

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