For the love of pets: Rover Takes a Big Bite Out of Personal Budgets

We as a country spend more on our “fur babies” than we do on ourselves, dropping a monthly average of $83 per cat and $130 to $150 per dog on basic needs (licensing, food, crates, litter).

These conservative ASPCA estimates are two to four times more than we as Americans spend on monthly gym memberships so we can keep up with the fluffy ones.

Pet popularity … unleashed.

The reported 73 million homes with a pet are contributing to what is a projected $55.5 billion industry in 2013. Rewind 10 years and households were collectively spending $32.4 billion. Go back another 10 years, and the industry was a comparatively paltry $17 billion.

Off the chain growth in pet ownership (representing 62 percent of U.S. households in 2012 vs. 56 percent in 1988) has prompted the need for such services and products.

It’s a trend made more impressive, considering that animals as companions in the home is a relatively new, post-World War II concept brought on by improved understanding of animal illnesses and, in turn, better treatments. The introduction of canned pet food and supplies like cat litter also made it much easier for people to own a pet.

Pet health spawns new businesses.

In the early 1980s, when Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. wrote its first policy for a famous figure, TV’s Lassie, it was the only business that protected pets (and their owners) from traumatic accidents and unexpected illness. Today, there are reportedly 10 such insurance companies, supporting the 2,800 employees responsible for making the more than $650 million in premiums as of 2012 happen — an increase of $120 million since 2009.

You and other pet owners may find the premiums worth it to offset the vet bills that accounted for almost $13.7 billion of the $53.3 billion spent by Americans on their pets in 2012. Another $12.65 billion was spent on related OTC medicine and supplies — with health care only following food spending as the most costly category, accounting for more than $20 billion of the total pet spending.

Pet services, including grooming and boarding, represent another $4 billion in spending, with the balance — at around $2 billion — reserved for the actual purchase of new pets each year.

Spoiled pooches? 

As evidenced by pet services spending alone, we are not just swiping our cards for the basics. In fact, the industry has grown up to where dog “barkeries” and $2,600 Gucci pet carriers (thanks, Paris Hilton) are “so 2005.” Owners and their pets can now get matching tattoos, hair extensions or invest in pet lipo if Fluffy is less fur and more flab.

As much as we spend on our pets to keep them happy and healthy, studies support what we as pet owners already know: Our family members with fur keep us healthy and happy. The CDC reports pet owners not only get more exercise and socialization than their counterparts without pets, pet ownership has also been tied to real, physical benefits — lowering blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

So keep calm and throw a big stick, as pet companionship may well be one of the best investments you can make.