A Health Boost
Pets’ positive impact on human health is still expected to spur a pet industry boom.
“Epidemiological studies show that children who grow up in households with dogs have a lower risk for developing autoimmune illnesses like asthma and allergies—and it may be a result of the diversity of microbes that these animals bring inside our homes.” This is according to The New York Times (June 6, 2017), which further notes that “early research suggests links between the microbes that our animal companions bring into our homes—and that we breathe in and swallow—and the microbes that thrive in our digestive tract,” benefiting cognitive functions including mood.
It’s nice to feel validated. In my March 2010 U.S. Pet Market Outlook report, I stated: “As the correlation between pet ownership and enhanced human health receives additional scientific support through clinical trials and is made more publicly known, pet ownership and market sales will soar to new heights.”
At the time, the pet industry was just beginning to take this avenue of inquiry seriously. An early example came in August 2009, when the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, a division of global pet food leader Mars, committed $2 million to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for human-animal interaction research. The following year, at the 2010 Petailing Leadership Conference, Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, announced the formation of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), created to support federal research that provides scientific evidence of the human-health benefits that result from people’s relationships with pets.
Since then, I’ve written regularly about HABRI and the potential of the human-health angle to bolster the pet market, and I’m more convinced than ever that a “big boom” in pet ownership lies ahead. There are signs that the efforts of HABRI and others are having an impact on pet owner attitudes—if not yet levels of pet ownership. In 2011, Packaged Facts asked its Pet Owner Survey respondents to attribute levels of agreement to the statement “My dog or cat has a positive impact on my physical health,” finding that 74 percent of dog owners and 72 percent of cat owners agreed overall, with 37 percent and 36 percent agreeing strongly. The same was asked with regard to mental health, with 81 percent of dog owners and 82 percent of cat owners in agreement and 44 percent of each group in strong agreement. In the February/March 2017 survey, these figures were up: with regard to physical health, 95 percent of dog owners and 90 percent of cat owners agreed. The mental health figures were 95 percent of dog owners and 94 percent of cat owners in agreement, with more than 60 percent in both camps in strong agreement.
In other words, in reviewing prognostications such as mine or scientific findings such as those now widely available through HABRI, rather than surprise, the reaction of the large majority of U.S. pet owners might be: “You’re just now figuring this out?”
David Lummis is the lead pet-market analyst for Packaged Facts (packagedfacts.com), a division of MarketResearch.com.