Gen Z & the Power of the Human-Animal Bond

Happy child with dog. Portrait girl with pet


Pity the poor baby boomers. The generation that got all the attention because of its size and cultural dominance is quickly fading from the scene, as far as marketers are concerned. We are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day, which is still not quick enough for all the Gen Xers who have been waiting half their careers for boomers to finally get out of the way. Sorry Gen Xers, but there are just not enough of you to quicken the pulse of consumer product sellers.


Millennials today are the prime target demographic, and for good reason. It is a giant generation that is just now entering its prime income and spending years. According to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) most recent National Pet Owners Survey, millennials now spend more on pet products than any other generation. They have enthusiastically embraced pet ownership, with 74 percent owning pets. Of these millennial pet owners, an astonishing 82 percent are dog owners, according to the survey.


But just as it seems we have figured out what motivates millennial pet owners, another generation is coming along—Gen Z—to challenge our assumptions and our creativity. The oldest Gen Zers are in their early twenties. Most are still in school, learning to navigate the awkward transition to young adulthood but facing some very grown-up problems. This generation has stresses and societal pressures that social scientists are just now beginning to understand. And while pets are not the solution to all the challenges that these young people face, the pet care community is working to create a better understanding of the power of the human-animal bond to contribute to mental health and wellness.


"Pets are Lasting Best Friends"

An APPA-sponsored survey of 1,000 Gen Z Americans ages 11-17 showed that nearly 80 percent have a pet in their household. Sixty percent have a dog, 36 percent have a cat, 14 percent own fish and 23 percent have a small animal, reptile, bird or horse. Only 22 percent did not currently have a pet in their household.


Pets are extremely important to these young people as friends, companions and someone to turn to when feeling sad. When asked how relevant this statement is to you— "Pets are lasting best friends. They will always be by your side when you need them."—84 percent said it was extremely or very relevant. Seventy-nine percent described as extremely or very relevant the statement: "Pets let you be yourself. A pet will make you feel good about yourself because they will never judge you for who you are." More than 80 percent agreed with the statement: "Pets are always there for you when you feel lonely. Pets are there for you when you feel sad."


Pets in the Classroom

The Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom program has been the pet care community’s principle outreach to Gen Z for the past decade, placing more than 145,000 pets in pre-K through ninth grade classrooms throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is estimated that nearly 5.8 million students have daily access to a pet thanks to this program.


Teachers report that the impact has been overwhelmingly positive, with notable changes in student behavior including decreased anxiety, increased empathy and compassion, self-esteem and responsibility.  "I saw a student who was not in control of his emotions and angry all the time, become so sweet and compassionate with my bunny," stated one teacher. Another teacher commented, "Teaching empathy with our class pet has been great. We have talked about feelings and emotions from a hamster’s perspective, which leads into feelings and emotions about our own self and others."


Reaching Gen Z through PAL

APPA’s Pets Add Life (PAL) program will soon launch a campaign aimed at Gen Z. Understanding the health benefits associated with pet ownership, and recognizing the very real issue of mental health and social struggles this demographic is facing, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the joys and benefits that pets can add to our lives, specifically to the Gen Z population.


The PAL campaign will feature an honest and emotional video showing the day-to-day challenges of a Gen Zer who faces today’s constant pressures such as having an online presence, anxiety over climate change and gun violence, heavy use of technology and the desire to change the world. Despite these struggles, the video will emphasize that a pet sees you, even when it feels like others don’t. 


Since the campaign will showcase the power of pets and how they should be a part of the mental health and wellness conversation, helpful resources such as links to mental health lifelines, "Get a Pet" lifestyle quizzes, and the Pets Add Life Pet Finder will be available on the PAL website. Parents of Gen Zers, who have the decision-making and financial power to bring a new pet into the home are the secondary audience for this campaign, so the PAL website will also provide conversation starters for Gen Zers to talk to their parents about getting a pet.


With the growing support of research showing that pets can play an important role in the state of our overall health and well being, the pet care community has an important opportunity to be at the forefront of these discussions.


If you would like to learn more about the PAL program, visit Include the link on your business website and social media sites. You can also follow PAL on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.  PB


Steve King is CEO of the American Pet Products Association.