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A pandemic-driven acquisition spree raised ownership of pets other than dogs and cats to the highest level in a decade for three of the four main “other pet” types, with pet birds being the exception, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. In the wake of COVID-19, according to a new Packaged Facts report on Fish, Small Mammal, Herptile, and Bird Products, 12.2 percent of all U.S. households own one (or more) type of pet other than dogs and cats, up from 10.8 percent five years ago.

Now at $2.8 billion, the retail market for fish, small mammal, reptile/amphibian, and bird products posted sales increases across categories in 2020, resulting in a 18.5 percent sales increase that exceeded even the unprecedented 15.8 percent growth experienced by the retail pet products sector overall.

Despite the economic setbacks and uncertainties since COVID-19, Packaged Facts survey results from June 2021 show that only 4 percent of other pet owners decreased their pet spending in the previous 12 months, while 33 percent increased it.

“Product premiumization plays a part in this spending increase, with these other pet owners following the pattern of dog and cat owners in seeking out costlier natural foods and more design- and eco-conscious non-food products such as bedding, habitats/enclosures and toys,” according to report analyst Shannon Brown.

Why do millions of Americans opt for fish, small animals, reptiles and birds? Nearly two-thirds of other pet owners (65 percent) enjoy keeping them because they are fun to watch and observe, according to Packaged Facts survey data. More than half (52 percent) simply love this type of pet. Other common motivations include these pets being fun to interact with, adding liveliness to the home and providing companionship.

These motivations provide clear context for the pandemic-driven other pet acquisition boom, according to Packaged Facts officials. With the stay-at-home, school-from-home dynamics earlier in the crisis and the ongoing waves of COVID-19 infection, home-centric households are relying on various types of pets—and often on multiple types of pets, all as part of the family—for adult and child activities, comfort and companionship, officials said. Even when pandemic restrictions ease and online classes become options, most households will continue to cherish these pets, such that continued market growth is projected in the coming years, officials added.

Marketers in the other pets market would do well to position on both function and “fun” while expanding their product ranges, according to Packaged Facts, and retailers should find success in products that allow people to interact with various types of pets in safe, enjoyable ways while keeping all creatures involved healthy and happy.