What’s Keeping Some Americans from Getting Pets?

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APPA data shows some would-be pet owners want to avoid the emotional distress of losing a pet.

 

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the Fountain Report.


 

For the past several years, the American Pet Products Association has been tracking why Americans don’t have pets. We’ve identified a commonality among former pet owners and non-pet owners: A growing reason for not owning a pet is primarily emotional. The recent (for former pet owners) or theoretical (for non-pet-owners) death of a pet is the No. 1 reason Americans choose not to own a pet.

Why former pet owners don’t currently have a pet

According to the chart below, the emotional reason – a pet’s death – is the No. 1 reason for not currently having a pet, as opposed to lifestyle reasons like travel and other factors like the person’s financial situation. Lifestyle concerns are on a deep decline, and financial concerns dropped from 2018-2022. By Global Pet Expo 2024, results for 2023 will be released in the next “State of the Industry” report.

You might be curious about the small bump in travel-related concerns (travel too much/plan to travel more) reported in 2020, especially because most of us were in lockdown due to COVID-19. Perhaps we were dreaming of the days when we could return to travel and thus delayed getting another pet with that hope in mind. Or could it be that for young Americans or Americans without children, the remote work environment actually gave them more freedom to travel and work from anywhere?

The National Pet Owners Survey (NPOS) will shed more light on our collective thoughts and behaviors after the global pandemic, which shifted the thinking of multiple generations. With the increase in awareness of the human-animal bond, including the health benefits that come with owning a pet, and so many Americans considering their pets part of the family, the increase in emotional responses is not surprising. According to HABRI’s 2021 Benchmark Survey of U.S. Pet Owners, “97% of pet owners are aware of at least one scientifically documented health benefit of the human-animal bond.”

Why non-pet owners don’t currently have a pet

Among those who have never owned a pet, lifestyle concerns are still reported, but these issues appear to be diminishing. Both financial and legal/medical issues are on the rise (which could be correlated to economic uncertainty).

But surprisingly, tied for the largest increase we see in this population is also sadness when a pet dies, increasing with statistical significance from 12% to 15% from 2018-2022.

From a psychological perspective, the industry needs to understand better where this emotion is coming from so that we can properly educate and encourage more pet ownership. Did this group of non-pet owners have pets growing up and the grief was too much to bear again in their lives? Is the media playing a part in these feelings of what might be considered anticipatory grief?

Between the feelings of doubt or guilt over euthanasia or not feeling validated to grieve the loss of a pet (disenfranchised grief), research shows there are many reasons grieving the loss of a beloved pet can actually be harder to recover from than other losses, as “some aspects of pet grief are unique.”

What’s the takeaway? Although Americans love pets, sometimes the love of pets is so deep that it creates apprehension around continued pet ownership. APPA’s data shows that most American pet owners fit their pets into their lifestyle now; pets are our best friends and part of our daily lives. Because of this level of attachment, the level of grief when a pet dies can be crippling, discouraging folks from wanting to welcome the love of a new pet into their hearts.

As an industry, we need to increase the visibility of the important work of pet grief counselors and groups dedicated to researching, understanding and serving all humans around loss. Together we can inform, educate and support former pet owners and non-pet owners alike, resulting in more pet-owning households and a happier and healthier society.

 

Why do people not own pets? For previous pet owners who no longer have a pet, they mostly say it’s because of pet’s death and less about lifestyle or financial reasons.

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Why do people not own pets? For people who have never owned a pet, they say it’s about the lifestyle and/or the financial commitments involved.

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Ali McIntyre serves as the vice president of data initiatives at the American Pet Products Association, bringing with her a wealth of expertise amassed over 15 years in the veterinary medicine and pet industry. Prior to joining APPA, Ali spearheaded the establishment of the VVCA. She also held the role of chief operating officer at the Animal Policy Group. In this capacity, she provided comprehensive legislative, regulatory, and policy services to a diverse clientele within the pet sector.

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/NickyLloyd

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