These days, the family pet isn't just the family pet. Rather our pets are as essential to our family unit as any member of the human variety. A recent series of posts on this topic elicited a high volume of positive responses from our readers here and across social media platforms. For example, this note from Lynda Fernandez, a pet owner in the United Kingdom:
"...Yes, of course my dogs are family. The vet appears to see them in the same light because he calls [them] in by their...family names; so my dogs are Mits Fernandez and Monty Fernandez."
While reader Denise Rogers shared insights on the close emotional bond she has with her pets:
"I am...single with no children...it's just me & my 2 dogs. They are such a comfort & they get me through any tough situation I go through better then people do," Rogers wrote.
Our pet industry research contains data that gives empirical context to these pet owner comments.
If indeed "family is what you make it," then for many Americans our families simply would be incomplete without our beloved four-legged, finned or feathered kin.
From a superficial standpoint, it would seem that the reason for this shift in family dynamic is a simple case of pet owners "humanizing" their animal companions in a range of fashions. But in reality, the "pets as family" trend is indicative of a broader shift in social mores that has taken place over the past decade, whereby the status of companion animals has been elevated nationwide.
Pets are increasingly being presented as family members in movies, television shows, and commercials. Marley and Me is the evolution of Old Yeller. Moreover, pets continue to pop up with growing frequency in advertising for products that aren't even pet-related, a trend Packaged Facts views as a bellwether of the U.S. pet market's promise.
Since at least 2009, numerous marketers of non-pet products co-opted the "pets as family" theme and the goodwill that comes with it. As a result, the presence of pets has been obvious in everything from Super Bowl advertisements to Subaru car commercials featuring an all canine cast of actors along with slogans like "Dog tested. Dog approved".
Even beyond the marketing and advertisement realm, our nation rings with chimes of change and pet advocacy. We've witnessed efforts to change the legal paradigm of pet ownership; court cases awarding punitive damages for pet mistreatment that exceed the animal's monetary value; increase in cause-related marketing supporting animal welfare; and the trend toward pet adoptions from shelters.
Additionally, recent years have seen strong and growing public aversion to animal mistreatment in all forms, in venues ranging from puppy mills to corporate livestock to dog fights.
For the pet market, this elevation of pets to family is paramount because it legitimizes levels of spending that would have once been deemed excessive, according to Packaged Facts. The humanization trend that is a natural expression of the "pets as family" phenomenon sees pet owners treating their pets like children, which thus makes them highly receptive to products similar to the ones they use for themselves.
Not coincidentally, many of the services and products entering the market today are directly reminiscent of human fare -- items designed to appeal to the pet owner as much as to the pet.
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