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Respected charities are underfunded, a growing number of people can’t pay rent and mortgage, and many more can’t even pay their utility bills. But you’d never know this by the habits of some pet owners. They’re lavishing huge amounts of money on luxuries – for their pets.

According to the investment website Motley Fool, owners spent approximately $72 billion in 2018 on their pets, up approximately 4% from 2017, and estimates are that there will be comparable growth this year. While respectable, a 4% growth rate is not spectacular and not causing a stir.

But what is raising eyebrows are the things some pet owners are spending money on. In 2018, for example, they spent an estimated $480 million on costumes for their dogs. And that’s not all. Would you buy a doggie stroller for $400? Or pay for tattoos for your pet? Or get Grumpy Cat-endorsed bottled coffee? Believe it or not, a lot of people do and in the process fork over big bucks.

At one time the idea of spending so much money on pets would have been unthinkable, but these days it has become the new normal.

 

Raising The Bar

According to Crain’s New York, nothing less than the very best will do for some pet owners who happily purchase the very best food, drink, and accessories available. Of course, setting the bar this high means that hiring an ordinary trainer to teach your dog ordinary tricks like sitting, rolling over, or shaking hands is no longer good enough.

What they really expect of a trainer is someone who can give a dog a calorie-burning workout – as personal trainers do with human clients. Or one who can give it swimming lessons, teach it how to catch a Frisbee, and in some cases how to take its own selfie.

Standard Pacific Homes and other home builders now offer customers the option of purchasing an in-home pet suite “customized with a pet shower and removable shower head, built-in cabinetry and other conveniences,” according to Standard Pacific’s literature. At just $8,000, these suites are a “must have.” But those with deeper pockets may want to purchase still more extravagant amenities, such as one with flat-panel TVs; those go for $35,000.

Pet-loving singles can find matches on dating services such as petsdating.com and youmustlovedogsdating.com, but the idea here is not for you to hook up with other pet-loving humans but rather for your pet to enjoy the company of another pet. Services like datemypet.com not only serve as a matchmaker but will come up with a potential suitor in the same species as your pet.

 

How To Say I Love You

There are many other ways to spoil and pamper your pet. How about a cat house that’s actually heated? Or maple bacon-flavored pet ice cream mix that just needs to be frozen and is ready to serve? And for the cat or dog that has everything there are special furniture, Gucci blankets, and cat condos that can be purchased for as little as $1,000.

Obviously, some companies are profiting big time. Motley Fool recently featured two pet-related companies that are profiting from the trend toward increased spending for pet care. Trupanion, the largest pet insurer in the US, provides medical insurance plans for dogs and cats in the US and Canada. At the end of 2018, over 520,000 pets were enrolled and the company forecasts respectable growth going forward. The Fool says that “Trupanion is forging a fantastic recurring-revenue stream for itself, with plenty of growth opportunities in this untapped, under-served market.”

The other company it featured is Idexx Laboratories, the world leader in pet diagnostics. Idexx sells a table-top diagnostic machine to veterinarians; they also sell the testing strips needed to use it, which are very profitable – essentially the cookie and cookie-cutter strategy. According to The Fool, “Growth opportunities exist in cross-selling to existing customers, as well as in Europe, where spending on pets is starting to see the kind of explosive growth that North America witnessed over the last ten years.”

 

What Price Friendship?

Why are so many people spending so much money on luxuries for their pets? Does this indicate a major social problem?

My guess is that this is not the problem but rather the symptom. The financial costs of having children have become so high that many people either push this off or opt out of it entirely. The risks of a marriage breaking up have become so high and the consequences of that so devastating that many people opt out of this too. And there is rampant cynicism and distrust of people, evident by all the interaction with technology.

But people still have a need to love and to be loved. Increasingly these emotions are being fulfilled via pets, which to some have become substitutes for children, family, and trusted friends. That’s why pet owners happily buy “gifts” for their animal friends and shower them with luxuries unthinkable years ago.

To whatever extent this is true it’s a sad commentary on the times we live in and the pervasive loneliness in modern society.

 Sources: bustle.com; fool.com; money.com; toledoblade.com.


Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.