With inflation on the rise over the last few years, consumers have increasingly felt financial pressure, especially those who are pet owners. In fact, more than 75 percent of pet owners say the cost of their four-legged friend’s care is rising — and more than a quarter of them, 26 percent, are struggling to afford it, according to a Lending Tree survey.
While most of our attention has been on the increased cost of food for humans, as it turns out, pet food has seen a greater impact from inflation than human food. Americans paid 14.4 percent more for pet food in March 2023 than they did a year ago, according to the consumer price index, which is 6 percentage points higher than human groceries and nearly triple the rate for everything else.
Despite higher prices for pet owners, many reported that they are willing to continue to shell out top dollar for their furry friends, with 46 percent of pet owners reporting they spend the same or more per month on their pets as they do on their human children, according to a survey from Ally Consumer Research, part of financial services company Ally Financial.
Specifically, the Ally Consumer Research survey found that 40 percent of pet owners spend between $100 and $299 per month on their household pets, including food and healthcare, while 22 percent spend at least $300 per month.
“Americans’ love of pets is legendary, so the amount spent on ‘friends of choice’ comes as no surprise,” Ally said in its findings.
Even with high inflation affecting the cost of pet care and pet food, more American pet owners are committed to purchasing premium dog food for their furry friends, according to market researcher Numerator. Despite the cost of this premium food rising, Ally found a majority of pet owners, 53 percent, were willing to cut spending elsewhere before making budget cuts that directly affected their pets.
What would pet owners give up instead of their pets?
- Give up their morning latte forever: 42 percent
- Skip social outings for a year: 33 percent
- Never buy new clothes again: 29 percent
- Give up traveling for the next 10 years: 22 percent
- Cut cable or streaming for the rest of their life: 20 percent
- Not see their partner in person for six months: 14 percent
“They’re opting to give up their own creature comforts to ensure their pets enjoy the same quality of life,” said Kate Jaffe, trend expert at online platform Rover, which connects pet owners with pet care providers.
Americans see their pets as the “ultimate return on investment,” according to a survey from Rover, with 82 percent of pet parents agreeing their pet brings them the most happiness out of everything they spend money on. So it makes sense that 42 percent of pet owners said they would rather live without their morning latte – forever – than give up their pet.
But as both the Lending Tree and Ally surveys found, pet owners are willing to give up far more than lattes to give their furry friends the best life possible. More than half (51 percent) said they would even take on debt in order to care for their pets’ healthcare needs.
- 68 percent would borrow up to $1,999
- 44 percent would borrow up to $4,999
- 22 percent would borrow at least $5,000 or more
- 1 in 4 pet owners would put off their own medical needs to take care of their pet’s health care needs.
“Our pets are family, and we often have to make sacrifices for those we love,” said LendingTree’s chief credit analyst, Matt Schulz. “With pet ownership getting more expensive by the day, many Americans find themselves having to do just that,” he said.
In order to avoid incurring debt due to pet-related expenses, Schulz recommended pet owners start by “carving out space in your budget for pet expenses and even a pet emergency fund, if possible. That way, the next big unexpected expense for your furry friend won’t automatically send you into debt.”
3 in 4 Pet Owners Report Pet Costs Rising Due to Inflation
As of 2020, a majority of U.S. households (54 percent) have at least one dog, according to the American Kennel Club, which is up from 50 percent in 2018. Many animal rescue organizations attribute the increased adoption rate of pets to stay-at-home orders and an increasing amount of Americans’ ability to work remotely, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals noting that 1 in 5 households adopted a pet during the pandemic. And of those families that adopted pets, 90 percent have kept the dogs they adopted, and 85 percent have kept the cats they adopted.
While the love for furry friends seems to be growing in popularity, the increased costs associated with pet ownership are growing too and affecting some pet owners more than others. Although 75 percent of pet owners acknowledge that inflation is making pet ownership more expensive, a little more than 1 in 4 (26 percent) say they are struggling to afford the rising costs.
How pet owners feel about inflation:
- Inflation is making pet ownership more expensive, but I’m still able to afford the rising costs without much stress (50 percent)
- Inflation is making pet ownership more expensive, and I’m struggling to afford the rising costs (26 percent)
- In my situation, inflation isn’t making pet ownership more expensive (24 percent)
While not every pet owner feels the financial pinch of inflation when it comes to pet ownership prices, 87 percent of pet owners acknowledged they’ve noticed expenses rising especially when it comes to pet food (74 percent) and veterinary services (33 percent). In order to afford these higher costs, many pet owners are cutting back on other items, such as pet toys, which is why annual spending on pets is down from $1,163 in 2021 to $984.
Millennials are the most likely to report having trouble paying for pet expenses amid inflation, according to LendingTree, with 32 percent of millennials reporting they are having trouble paying for pet expenses, compared to 28 percent of Gen Zers and 16 percent of baby boomers.
Gen Xers were the least likely age group to have decreased spending on their pets, with a majority reporting spending $52 less than the previous year. For Gen Xers, the average annual pet expenses are around $1,048, followed by millennials, who, despite being most concerned about the rising pet costs, continue to spend an average of $1,025 annually on their furry friends.
In order to make ends meet, some pet owners are making changes to how they spend money when it comes to their four-legged friends:
- 50 percent of pet owners have been forced to buy cheaper types of pet food thanks to inflation.
- 55 percent of pet owners have been forced to cancel their pet food subscription on Chewy.com, Amazon.com, or through a raw food/pre-cooked meal service.
- 46 percent of pet owners have been forced to drop or delay veterinary treatments for their pets.
- 33 percent of pet owners have been forced to drop their pet’s prescription medication on Chewy.com, Amazon.com, or 1-800-PetMeds.
- 28 percent of pet owners have cut their frequency of visiting the vet, with 24 percent reducing daycare for their dogs and 20 percent trimming the time they leave their pet with a sitter or boarding facility.
Of course, for some pet owners who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, switching to a cheaper food brand is not necessarily enough savings to lessen their financial stress, which is why the LendingTree survey also found that:
- 73 percent of pet owners say a food pantry for pets would be helpful to them during this inflationary period.
- 22 percent of pet owners have applied for special services in their state that help them pay for pet-related costs.
- 44 percent of pet owners say they’ve charged pet expenses to a credit card as a result of inflation.
- 24 percent of pet owners have considered giving away their pets to another home or rescue/shelter because of inflation.
Despite their best attempts to sacrifice their own wants and needs in order to care for their pet, nearly 1 in 4 (23 percent) of pet parents have taken on debt.
While paying off debt can be draining, the majority of pet owners reported they would take on debt to cover an emergency expense for their pet, with 47 percent indicating they would likely charge any expense on a credit card. An additional 13 percent reported they would use a buy now, pay later service, and 10 percent would take out a personal loan.
“Unless there is no other option, it’s best to avoid charging a card for a pet emergency,” according to LendingTree insurance expert Robin Townsend. “Pet owners should consider using savings to cover at least part of the cost or ask about financing through their veterinarian.”
One way to potentially lower the cost when it comes to emergency expenses for pets? Pet insurance.
Despite the fact that the majority of pet owners have faced at least one emergency pet expense, 80 percent don’t have pet insurance. Those unexpected costs, Townsend says, could have been lessened by an insurance policy.
“Even if you pay for pet insurance for three years before needing it, you’ll still save on the cost of a major medical event like surgery or cancer,” Townsend says. “You’re likely to experience an unexpected emergency in your pet’s lifetime. If you’re not putting away funds to prepare for that, it’s a good idea to have pet insurance.”
“In addition to pet insurance, there are other areas where pet owners can lower costs and not sacrifice quality,” Townsend says.
Here’s what she recommends:
- Pet Insurance. There are several pet insurance options to choose from and finding one that works for your pet and your budget can go a long way. Townsend recommends asking yourself questions such as: How much can I afford out of pocket for vet bills? Without insurance, how would I pay for a major health expense for my pet such as an accident or a chronic health condition? How old is my pet? Does my pet have any pre-existing conditions?
- Cost-effective Alternatives. We know you want to buy your pet premium pet food, but if you’re struggling financially, consider buying a cheaper pet food product or check out consider buying pet food in bulk to help you save money. Another way to cut down on pet expenses? Instead of hiring a trainer, consider training your pet yourself. To cut down on vet expenses, see if there is a vaccination clinic in your area instead of taking your furry friend to a veterinarian for their vaccines.
- Ask for Help from Animal Organizations. Contact local pet organizations if you’re in need of help supplying food or veterinary care to your pet. There are organizations that even help cover the cost of spaying or neutering a pet, like the Pet Awareness and Welfare Society.
Veterinarians.org also suggests contacting:
- RedRover: An organization that provides a comprehensive directory of state programs that provide financial assistance to pet owners as well as national organizations that help with certain needs. RedRover’s directory of financial assistance programs can be searched by medical condition, breed, and by need (including pet food assistance, low-cost spay/neuter resources, and financial assistance). There are also urgent care grants available for pet owners struggling with economic hardship after their pets experienced a life-threatening situation.
- State Veterinary Medical Association. Contact your state’s veterinary medical association to inquire about financial assistance programs within your area.
- Finance Major Pet Expenses. If incurring debt on behalf of your pet is unavoidable, try to finance these big expenses in the smartest way possible. For example, taking advantage of a zero-interest offer on a credit card, as long as you can afford the monthly payments, will save you money compared to charging the expense to a credit card with an APR of 20 percent or more. Some pet finance companies also offer special financing options with deferred interest too.
Have you noticed an increased cost when it comes to pet care? Share your experience and any tricks you’ve discovered to save money in the comments below!