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The Rise of the Empowered Pet Owner

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UVSA commissioned research examines impact of COVID-19 on pet owner behaviors.

The United Veterinary Services Association (UVSA) recently unveiled commissioned research on the impact of COVID-19 on pet owner behaviors and attitudes related to veterinarians as a result of the pandemic and quarantine rules and restrictions. Pet owners reported a stronger human-animal bond (HAB) and increased pampering behavior over the past year, with statistically significant increases from work-from-home pet owners and millennials, respectively. This growth led to significant increases in owner-pet play, grooming (e.g., washing, dental care), vet-centric support, and vet hospital purchase behavior, led by high-earning urban millennial males. Owners expect these pandemic-induced behaviors will likely persist post-COVID.

The research was conducted by APG|O’Hara Research and Analytics in March 2021 of a representative sample of 2009 primary and shared decision-making cat and dog pet owners in the United States. Follow-up interviews were also conducted with six general practice veterinarians and nine pet owners in April 2021 to further illuminate the findings. The research was funded by the UVSA and sponsor members Elanco, Covetrus, Midmark, Animalytix, Virbac, Vetoquinol, MWI Animal Health, Patterson Veterinary, Clipper Distributing Co. and USVet Veterinary Products.


Among the findings:

Millennials have emerged as the most-engaged group of pet owners in the U.S. Not only are they the largest group of pet owners, but millennials also engage in more daily activities, groom their pets more, purchase more, and make use of more ancillary services than any other generation. They also engage with more digital services; general and vet-centric telemedicine, online chats with retailers, and online information from their vets are accessed at two times the rate of other generations. Additionally, millennials say that offering these types of digital services will play a greater role in how they choose and retain veterinary services moving forward.

The veterinarian-client relationship has evolved over the past year as a result of COVID safety protocols. While veterinarians and pet owners talked about lack of service availability generally, the pains of new patient flows and lack of face-to-face communication, client purchasing at hospitals was greater than ever this past year, again being driven by high-earning millennial males.

However, these millennials have introduced a more nuanced view of their desired relationship with the vet. Whereas trust in vets and their perceived credibility remains very high, millennials as a group exhibit very high personal agency: They want to research and treat their pet’s needs where applicable, which allows for greater perceived efficiency, cost savings, and convenience. This personal agency is much higher than any other generation, and working with veterinarians who support their desire to DIY is becoming a key point in veterinary differentiation.

Many pandemic pets were purchased during the COVID quarantine. These new pet owners state that the purchase was motivated by activity and loneliness reasons, again led mostly by high-earning urban millennial males. Additionally, there were many first-time pet owners introduced during the past year, with high-earning urban millennial males driving this trend. While fears of high pet relinquishment pervade our industry, this study did not uncover any alarming trends. First-time pet owners are only 2% higher than total market in their stated intention to relinquish their pets (at 8% serious consideration).

Overall, this study revealed the incredible resilience of the animal health industry during an unprecedented time of change and growth which lends much confidence in this industry to not just survive natural disasters, but thrive by focusing on core service needs to support owners and their pets.

Graphic of UVSA COVID study findings.

About the authors

Kerry O’Hara, Ph.D.

President of APG, O’Hara has proven expertise exploring key sectors in the companion animal landscape, including pet owners, veterinarians, veterinary hospitals and benefits decision-makers. She has nearly 30 years of applied thought leadership, consumer insights and analytics experience creating content and strategies at leading Fortune 100 businesses like Nationwide, HP, Disney and Microsoft.

Jackie King  

Executive director of the United Veterinary Services Association, a national trade association comprising distributors, manufacturers and suppliers of animal care products in the veterinary channel. A graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School and a member of the Maryland Bar, King is the chief staff liaison to the UVSA board of directors. She’s responsible for the administration and implementation of UVSA board policies and initiatives.

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Solovyova