As 2020 comes to an end and the dust of this unprecedented year begins to settle, industry research is revealing new patterns of consumer behavior and buying trends that point toward a more optimistic outlook for the year ahead.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat 2020, because it’s been a difficult year for all of us,” said Shelly Armstrong, World Pet Association (WPA) community manager. “But a huge bright spot has been the surge in pet ownership as people spend more time at home. The key for retailers is to determine how to best serve these new markets.”

According to a recent report from Packaged Facts—Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 4th Edition, which was released June 29, 2020—the number of pet-owning households in the U.S. rose by about 4 percent and will approach 71 million by the end of 2020. An August survey from TD Ameritrade revealed that more than a third of Americans have considered adding a pet to their homes in the past year. Millennials were most enthusiastic at 50 percent, with gen Xers falling close behind at 33 percent, according to the survey.

While dogs have been a big focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, cats currently occupy about 30 million homes in the United States. Their low-maintenance care and self-sufficient dignity makes them especially appealing to younger, professional demographic groups who make some of the biggest retail purchases, such as millennials and emerging gen Z adults (ages 18-24).

It’s no surprise then that some of the biggest trends for 2021 include specialty pet products for cats. Safety and health products top the list, which is fitting given the preceding year. Below are some products that have performed well in 2020 and are likely to be sought out in 2021:

Emergency Pet Carriers

Many people fled cities during the pandemic, and many more had to evacuate due to wildfires in the west. Pet owners are now taking preparedness into their own hands and purchasing specialized carriers to safely and comfortably keep cats close at hand in case of emergencies. Most of these carriers include a viewing window for pets, emergency preparedness information, storage space for a leash, food and water, and stickers that let emergency workers know an animal is inside the home.

High-End Cat Towers

While cat trees and towers have been available since the 1980s, today’s high-end options are much more sophisticated than the carpeted, particleboard selections of the past. Today’s products include premium designs made of various materials—from live-edge wood and Manila rope to sleek glass and steel—that fit into a range of home décor styles. The price points can soar well into the four figures, but for design-conscious cat owners, this is a small price to pay to have their cats’ furniture blend seamlessly into their own décor.

Symptom-Detecting Cat Litter

Sometimes, it’s not easy to identify a cat’s pain or illness. Yet urinary tract and bladder infections remain serious, making early detection a must. Some of the latest cat litters can help. These litters change color based on cat urine pH levels and alert cat owners to signs of trouble with handy charts that indicate when it’s time to call the vet.

Multisensory Cat Toys

As scientists learn more about the cognitive behavior of felines, expect to see products that are increasingly interactive and enrich cats’ normal behaviors in the coming year. Many new, multisensory toys on the market require cats to use vision, hearing and touch to stay entertained with lights, lasers and other digital “prey” that can be connected to an app on an owner’s phone. Because these toys mimic natural animal behaviors, cats benefit from exercise and healthful stimulation—meaning they may be less likely to claw the furniture.

CBD Supplements

Studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce inflammation and can have calming effects, while hemp oil—also from the plant species Cannabis sativa—contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote overall health. Both products have been used in humans to relieve stress, alleviate epilepsy symptoms, and help with joint and skincare issues. CBD has also been shown to lessen aggression in cats, so expect to see more products containing CBD on the market in 2021 in the form of oils, treats and more.

Despite the pandemic, consumers can still source most of these cat products from local pet stores, national retail chains and subscription services. Retailers, on the other hand, are having a more difficult time knowing which products to stock in the wake of canceled trade shows and buying events that traditionally gave pet professionals a first look at new products for the holidays and the year ahead.

In September, WPA launched WPA365 as a way to provide retailers, groomers and service providers with the latest industry information and trusted connections with top suppliers. An on-demand platform available all year round, WPA365 features a robust marketplace, multiple ways to contact manufacturers, and a full repertoire of educational and marketing resources to help pet professionals boost revenue and enhance their craft.

“WPA365 was created so retailers can accurately source what pet owners want,” Armstrong said. “It’s not another virtual event. Instead it’s a way for pet professionals to access the latest trends, connect to suppliers and forge relationships that enable them to stock products that will lead to profitability. WPA365 is here to ensure retailers have everything they need to achieve their professional goals for 2021.”

The World Pet Association (WPA) brings the pet world together so quality interaction and education between and among product suppliers and pet owners can create healthier, happier pets and a healthier, more productive pet industry. Founded in 1950, WPA brings thought leadership, innovative thinking and best practices to the pet industry, working to inform and educate the general public in order to ensure safe and healthy lifestyles for our animal friends.

For more of PPN's coverage of cat product trends, read: