Pet Insurance

With Humans Stuck Indoors, Pets Are More Popular Than Ever

With Humans Stuck Indoors, Pets Are More Popular Than Ever

More than ever, pets are providing vital companionship and emotional support to millions of people in lockdown — and data suggests that they've grown their share of our spending, too.
Man with his puppy
Man with his puppy Source: Getty Images

As everyone adjusts to the new normal of life in coronavirus lockdown, many homebound families are choosing to explore pet ownership for the first time. Since the beginning of social distancing and stay-at-home policies, a growing number of households have chosen to adopt or foster pets. Many animal shelters in major cities have happily announced that they have no more pets awaiting adoption.

Key findings

  • Nationwide, the total number of businesses catering to pet owners has grown twice as quickly as businesses in general.
  • Southern cities such as Fayetteville, Arkansas and Augusta, Georgia experienced the highest annual increase in pet services, while the largest cities saw minimal growth in an already-crowded market.
  • Among the different types of pet-related businesses, pet services such as groomers, walkers and sitters showed faster growth than veterinary offices or pet retailers.
  • Stay-at-home measures have spurred a rise in recent pet adoptions and fostering, but a return to normal life may prove a challenging adjustment for new pet owners.

This recent spike in interest plays into the growing popularity of pets among U.S. households. Over the past several years, Americans have invested more and more of their time and money in caring for their pets. ValuePenguin took a look at the available data to find out which places have experienced the highest increases in pet-related economic activity.

Where has pet ownership driven the most economic growth?

Statistics on the total population of pets in the U.S. are spotty at best and conflicting at worst, so we turned to the most recently available data from the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns Survey. This survey included information on how many veterinarians, pet retail establishments and pet service providers operate in each city.

CityPet-dependent businessesAnnual growth
Fayetteville, AR11314.1%
Augusta, GA10112.2%
Greenville, SC15511.5%
Portland, ME19411.5%
Cape Coral, FL15811.3%
Charleston, SC17410.8%
Manchester, NH1009.9%
Myrtle Beach, SC1039.6%
Greensboro, NC1379.6%
Rochester, NY2229.4%
Asheville, NC1548.5%
Las Vegas, NV3208.5%
Wilmington, NC908.4%
Knoxville, TN1958.3%
Cincinnati, OH4428.1%
Denver, CO7608.0%
New Orleans, LA2158.0%
Nashville, TN3557.9%
Palm Bay, FL1367.9%
Little Rock, AR1417.6%
Worcester, MA2007.5%
Tampa, FL7207.3%
Oxnard, CA1797.2%
Winston, NC1227.0%
Memphis, TN1886.8%
Portland, OR6506.7%
Akron, OH1506.4%
Tucson, AZ2165.9%
Raleigh, NC3095.8%
Detroit, MI7225.7%
Dallas, TX1,3325.6%
San Antonio, TX3985.6%
Phoenix, AZ8765.5%
Jacksonville, FL3475.5%
Springfield, MO1175.4%
Charlotte, NC4995.3%
Madison, WI2005.3%
Pittsburgh, PA4585.3%
Milwaukee, WI3065.2%
Buffalo, NY2415.2%
Sacramento, CA3915.1%
Albuquerque, NM1665.1%
Seattle, WA9344.7%
Columbus, OH3944.5%
Philadelphia, PA1,1254.5%
Atlanta, GA1,0144.4%
Grand Rapids, MI1724.2%
Indianapolis, IN3984.2%
Austin, TX4784.1%
Houston, TX9974.1%
Baltimore, MD5414.0%
Lancaster, PA1063.9%
Springfield, MA1103.8%
Syracuse, NY1403.7%
Boise City, ID1433.6%
Los Angeles, CA1,9833.6%
Washington, DC1,1553.6%
Louisville, KY2563.6%
San Jose, CA2683.5%
Boston, MA9893.2%
Riverside, CA5503.0%
Toledo, OH1092.8%
Anchorage, AK782.6%
Colorado Springs, CO2022.5%
Minneapolis, MN7272.4%
Virginia Beach, VA2982.4%
Hartford, CT2692.3%
Chicago, IL1,6942.2%
Birmingham, AL1992.1%
Fort Collins, CO1522.0%
Oklahoma City, OK3072.0%
Orlando, FL4831.9%
New York, NY3,0341.8%
Providence, RI3311.8%
San Francisco, CA8321.7%
Kansas City, MO4501.6%
Richmond, VA2661.5%
Boulder, CO1401.4%
Miami, FL1,2251.2%
Albany, NY1861.1%
Cleveland, OH3721.1%
Youngstown, OH921.1%
St. Louis, MO5531.1%
Columbia, SC1470.7%
Salt Lake City, UT1720.6%
Omaha, NE1810.6%
Lexington, KY1650.6%
North Port, FL1950.5%
Des Moines, IA1590.0%
Durham, NC1310.0%
San Diego, CA6700.0%
Santa Rosa, CA1680.0%
Bridgeport, CT214-0.5%
New Haven, CT153-0.6%
Tulsa, OK212-0.9%
Spokane, WA113-1.7%
Allentown, PA158-2.5%
Harrisburg, PA115-2.5%
Dayton, OH125-3.1%
Deltona, FL151-9.0%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau County Business Patterns Survey, 2016-2017

Comparing numbers from the two most recent years showed us that pet-dependent businesses grew most quickly in major Southern cities such as Fayetteville, Arkansas and Augusta, Georgia. In contrast, major cities where pets have long been popular saw pet businesses expand more slowly.

Pet services grew faster than veterinarians or retail pet stores

The expansion of economic activity driven by pet ownership was mostly concentrated among businesses categorized as service providers. This includes groomers, day cares, walkers and any other establishment that offers non-medical animal services.

Total nationwideAnnual growth
Pet care services13,3077.1%
Pet stores7,3662.5%
Veterinarians19,3602.2%
All pet businesses40,0333.8%

The difference among the three groups of businesses — pet care services, veterinarians and pet stores — may relate to several factors. One is that veterinarians have been essential to pet owners for a long time, which would leave less room for recent expansion.

Another is that the pet retail industry includes dominant corporations such as Petco, which makes online-only business models more attractive than brick-and-mortar for smaller competitors. Meanwhile, services such as grooming and daycare have no online alternatives.

The growth in nonessential pet care services implies that pet owners are willing to spend more on those services than in the past.

Nationally, the number of pet-dependent businesses has grown twice as quickly as businesses in general. According to the most recent Census data, the number of pet-related business establishments expanded by 3.8% per year in 2017, compared to just 1.5% for all establishments.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected pets and pet owners?

Among the three types of businesses we considered, only veterinarians are open for business amid the coronavirus lockdown. Because they're classed as “life-sustaining,” veterinarians continue to provide medical care for animals — although their hours may be limited and visits may require appointments.

However, the scientific evidence is unclear on the potential consequences of coronavirus in domestic animals. While there have been a tiny number of confirmed cases where dogs and cats tested positive for COVID-19, none of those animals died or suffered severe symptoms. At this stage, it seems more likely that a trip to the vet would be due to a typical emergency rather than coronavirus.

As for humans, it seems that the weeks of forced confinement have inspired a significant uptick in the number of people interested in adopting or fostering shelter animals. Especially around those cities hit hardest by COVID-19, numerous shelters have announced that they have few or no animals left waiting for adoption in their facilities.

However, it's important to consider the impact of eventually returning to normal patterns. As people return to workplaces outside the home, they may need to make an effort in keeping up the amount of attention they provide to their pets. Just like with adoptions in the past, prospective pet owners should consider the long-term impact of adding a pet to their household.

Is this the time to get insurance for your pet?

As we've mentioned, COVID-19 is primarily a human problem. While the virus has been found in a few pets, it has not noticeably impacted the health of animals who live with humans. As far as the consequences for pet insurance, the biggest will likely be a delay in claims reimbursement as insurers adjust their operations to meet social distancing requirements.

You should consider pet insurance if you worry about being financially unable to protect your pet's life in a medical emergency.

Our recommendation for pet owners regarding insurance is the same as it has ever been: Get pet insurance if you don't want to be in the position of having to choose between your finances and your pet's well-being. Veterinary care can be extremely costly, especially when it comes to life-saving procedures.

Methodology

ValuePenguin obtained data from the U.S. Census Bureau County Business Patterns Survey on the number of pet-related business establishments in each of the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), represented above by the largest city in each MSA. We used the most recently available data, which covered the years 2016-2017.