Closing the Generation Gap

A new study from the American Pet Products Association details the changing demographic profile of today’s pet parents.



The one constant in life is change. Nothing lasts forever. And yet, sometimes we conduct our business as if nothing will change.

The pet marketplace has undergone a lot of changes since man first decided that wolves could be pets. Dogs went from outside-only animals to being kept in the house sometimes to basically running the household today. The same is true for almost all kinds of pets.

A key change to our industry started to take hold as Baby Boomers took over the pet-owning world a number of years ago. They began to humanize their pets, and they spent more and more money on their furry friends. They broke the mold of having pet ownership decline dramatically as people turned 60 and aimed for retirement. We, as an industry, embraced that dynamic, and even to this day we aim much of our efforts at continuing to serve and cater to that group.

Well, there are a lot of signs that times are changing. The oldest of us Baby Boomers are reaching 70 beginning this year, and early indications are that 70 is the new 60, at least in terms of pet ownership trends. 

As the largest generation, Baby Boomers represent the biggest segment of pet owners (37 percent). As they and their pets grow older, we can see them reaching a point where they are unable to care for their pet or their pets are passing away, and thus pet ownership will start to drop off. It is important to the pet industry as a whole to monitor the trends in pet ownership by generation as the largest segment of the population continues to age. To that end, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has produced a new National Pet Owners Survey: Generational Report.

While it is definitely not time to panic (a lot of the Boomers have a long way to go before reaching 70), it is time to start to look at how the marketplace is evolving, and the Generational Report does just that. 

Millennials are starting to have more buying power and their shopping behaviors differ from the older generations in some ways. For example, this generation learns of pet products through the Internet more than any of their predecessors. Not surprisingly, Millennials uses social media more than any other generation, but they use pet product company websites less than any other group. On a positive note, the individual Millennial pet owner spends more on their pet than previous generations and considers products that might have previously been deemed discretionary as essential. They want to take their pets with them wherever they go. They consider their pet not only part of the family, but training for a family.

Baby Boomers believe pets offer many health benefits and pets help them relax. Gen X pet owners are a cross between the generations that bookend them. Like Boomers, they believe that pets offer them affection. However, like Millennials, while they want their kids to have a pet, they are worried about the financial obligations of pet ownership. Ironically, Gen X owners are the least likely to appreciate the health benefits pets can offer. 

There are a lot more interesting facts in the Generation Report, which is broken down even further by pet type and includes everything from how each generation becomes aware of pet products, types of products purchased, toy and gift purchases, top expenses, brand name importance, where their pets are obtained and more. I think all of you will find the trends that are starting to emerge to be quite interesting and relevant to helping focus your marketing and business efforts for the future. For more information on the Generational Report or to purchase a copy, visit and click on the “Market Research” tab.

Bob Vetere is the president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association.


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