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The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way to more at-home activities. A lot more if your living room has become your new office space. With all this extra time spent at home, it’s quite possible that you’ve splurged a bit to make things more comfortable … or bearable. For many, though, the extra spending is about keeping their pets happy.

In a survey by LendingTree, a third of pet owners said their pet-related spending has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Twice as many pet owners said they’re spending more on their pet (34 percent) versus spending less on their pet (17 percent). About half (49 percent) of all pet owners said that their spending hasn’t changed.

“Many Americans are spending more time at home to avoid catching or spreading [COVID-19],” LendingTree officials said. “For some, having a furry companion makes being isolated at home a little more tolerable.”

The pandemic has also affected the way that pet owners take on debt for their pets, according to the survey. Pet owners who experienced income loss due to the pandemic reported more pet debt than those whose wages stayed the same.

The LendingTree survey also asked more than 2,000 Americans—regardless of whether they currently own a pet—if they were considering getting a pet in the next six months.

“A little under half (46 percent) responded that they were, but that number increases to 69 percent among Americans who were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic,” officials said. “Plus, 8 percent of all pet owners surveyed got their pet during the coronavirus pandemic, between March and September 2020.”

Overall, pandemic or not, more pet owners are going into debt for their pets when compared with last year, the survey found. Nearly half (47 percent) of pet owners in this year’s survey have had pet-related debt, up from 36 percent in 2019.

Of those currently in debt over their pets, one in five (19 percent) owe at least $1,000. About two-thirds (65 percent) of those who have been in debt for their pet regret paying for the expense that caused the debt. Still, according to the survey, 80 percent of those who have had pet debt would still be willing to get another pet.

To pay for pet-related emergency medical expenses, pet owners are turning to credit cards. For instance, the survey found that two in five (42 percent) pet owners would turn to their credit card should an emergency pet expense arise, one in four (26 percent) would use cash and one in five (21 percent) would tap savings, avoiding debt.

Baby boomers are far less likely than younger generations to go into debt for their pets, according to the survey. The percentage of pet owners who have been in debt for their pet by generation: Baby boomers (23 percent), gen X (66 percent), millennials (48 percent) and gen Z (40 percent).

Baby boomers are also the least likely to pay for a monthly subscription box, like Barkbox, according to officials. Just 1 percent of baby boomers use this service, compared to 17 percent of gen Z, 13 percent of millennials and 10 percent of gen X, according to the survey.

Such expenses often surprise pet owners, the survey further revealed. Sixty-two percent of pet owners were shocked by how much money it costs to own a pet, and 59 percent of pet owners were caught off guard by an unexpected medical expense.

This doesn’t just apply to dog owners, though. Cat owners also experience the same financial burden, according to officials. When asked how much they spent on their pets, how much pet-related debt they have and if they were shocked by the cost of pet ownership, cat owners and dog owners had consistent answers across the board.

LendingTree officials offered the following tips on avoiding pet debt.

  • Make a budget. “A budget is your first line of defense against debt, as it helps you plan ahead for expenses and track your spending,” officials said.
  • Set aside savings. “Stash some money away whenever you’re able for potential emergency expenses,” officials added. “Worst-case scenario, you never incur an emergency expense and can use the funds for something else.”
  • Consider pet insurance. “Though pet insurance isn’t right for everyone, it’s worth checking out a few different policies,” officials said. “In many cases, pet insurance can provide some much-needed peace of mind.”
  • Shop around for your best deal. “This strategy is true for almost everything—including veterinarians, insurance and credit cards or loans if you’re not able to avoid debt,” officials further noted.

“When you adopt a pet, you assume financial responsibility for them,” officials said. “While you can account for recurring pet expenses like food and vaccinations in your monthly budget, it’s harder to predict pet expenses like emergency vet visits.”

LendingTree is a mortgage broker company based in Charlotte, N.C.


For more of PPN’s coverage on pet owners’ spending habits, read: