The U.S. pet industry is barking, biting, and booming like never before.

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Do you own a pet? Chances are, you either have a beloved pooch or frisky feline in your care, and if so, you probably spend a hefty sum of money keeping them fed, healthy, happy, and even entertained. In fact, the pet industry is one of the largest niche segments of household discretionary spending, and has even proven to be recession proof over the last 5+ years. Of course we can’t measure our love for the loyal family dog or precocious purring cat, but we sure can delve into the numbers and statistics about just how formidable the pet industry is.

There are about 82.5 million pet owners in the United States.

Pet ownership currently stands at around 56.5 percent of all households, or 66.8 million homes.

The number of pet owners is expected to grow by 4% annually through 2018.

All together, those pet owners take care of:

95.6 million cats
83.3 million dogs
20.6 million birds
8.3 million horses
145 million freshwater fish
13.6 million saltwater fish
11.6 million reptiles
18.1 million small animals

Last year, Americans spent a whopping $55.7 billion on their pets, an all-time high.

And once 2015 is in the books, that figure is expected to reach $60.59 billion.

That follows a trend of steady increase since records on the pet industry have been kept, without even a single year of decline.

In fact, pet spending was recorded at only $21 billion in 1996, the first year records were tallied.

Of that nearly $56 billion spent on pets last year, here was the breakdown:

$21.57 billion for food
$14.37 billion for veterinary care
$13.14 billion for supplies and over-the-counter medicines
$2.23 billion for live animal purchases
$4.41 billion for other services

PetSmart and PetCo, the two largest national retail chains serving pets, account for more than half of all industry revenue.

Since the Recession, the demand for standard pet products, foods and services has stayed flat, while revenue generated by specialty foods and products boosted the overall industry growth to 3.4 percent annually.

Forecasts predict that the pet industry will grow about 4 percent annually through 2018.

As of 2013, the umber of pet industry operators and companies was tallied at 13,470.

The number of pet industry operators is expected to rise to 14,611 by 2018.

Other than PetSmart and PetCo and a handful of other large pet product chains, the vast majority of pet industry operators are small shops, stores, and services. In fact, 92.2 percent of all operations are managed by companies with zero to four employees, and only 7.8 percent of pet-related businesses have more than 20 employees.

Seniors and older Americans are fueling the growth of the pet industry, as many choose to keep pets to fill the void from children moving out of the home, spouses dying or being unmarried, or for companionship and the mental and physical benefits owning a pet offers.

And while we’re keeping more dogs and cats as pets, the sale of other animals as pets has fallen by about 2 percent per year and is expected to continue.

But the one-time cost of purchasing a pet is only a small portion of the total dollar expenditures, estimated at 5.6 percent.

The overwhelming trend of growth in the pet industry has been driven by a consumer swell in specialty and luxury items, foods, and services for their pets.

Sales of age-specific, breed-specific, organic, vitamin-infused, and additive-enhanced foods have boomed in the last five years.

A new consumer demographic has emerged from the popularity of luxury and specialty pet items, the “premium pet shopper.”

According to industry surveys, 70 percent of these premium pet shoppers are willing to spend extra money to ensure the wellness of their pet, and 30 percent prefer to shop at retailers or pet stores that carry specialty or top-end foods and products.

At the same time, pet owners are becoming less loyal to specific retailers. In 2006, 53 percent of pet owners reported they were store loyal, but that fell to only 42 percent in 2013. There are several reasons for that, including the fact that they may be more loyal to specific brands, not the stores that carry them, many high-end grocery and natural food stores now carry pet products, and people can also shop and order online for discounts.

Only twenty or thirty years ago, pet owners saw their animals as companions, home protection, and good for recreation. But the trend of “humanizing” pets as members of the family has grown exponentially, especially for single people, the elderly, and those couples without children.

With that trend of humanizing our pets, the propensity to spend more on quality products and services to expand their health and wellness has risen, too. The demand for all natural, organic, and luxury foods, treats, toys, grooming, training, boarding, and other services has sky rocketed.

Premium grooming, training, and pet sitting services rose 6.1 percent last year, and premium health and wellness products and medications grew more than 10 percent over the last two years.

So it’s no surprise that the American Veterinary Medical Association found a direct correlation between the measure of the human/pet bond and the amount of money pet owners spent on them. Owners who saw their dog as a member of the family spent an average of $438 at the vet every year, compared with only $266 spent by owners who only saw their pet as an animal/companion, and only $190 by those who saw their dog as just property.

But humanizing our pets might not always be a good thing, considering that research by veterinarians shows that the biggest health risk to dogs and cats is obesity. In fact, 52.6 percent of all dogs and 57.6 percent of cars are overweight or obese, though 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners thought their pet was in the normal weight range.


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