On the subject of how much money we spend on our pets, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published “‘Tails’ from the Consumer Expenditure Survey” on its website and the Hartford Courant breaks down the information:
The average amount each household spent on pets in 2011 was $502.
Households tended to spend 1 percent of income, no matter how much or how little they earned.
The release tracked spending from 2007 to 2011, and it didn’t show any trends of households trading down to cheaper food brands during the recession, or surrendering dogs due to foreclosure.
Additional tidbits from the government:
In 2011, households spent more on their pets annually than they spent on alcohol ($456), residential landline phone bills ($381), or men and boys clothing ($404).
Average household spending on pet food alone was $183 in 2011. This was more than the amount spent on candy ($87), bread ($107), chicken ($124), cereal ($175), or reading materials ($115).
Even when spending at restaurants dropped during the recent recession (December 2007–June 2009), spending on pet food stayed constant.
From 2007 to 2011, spending on pets stayed close to 1 percent of total expenditures per household, despite the recession that occurred during this time.
The main takeaways for me:
Shelters and rescues that discriminate against poor people who want to adopt pets based on the assumption that middle/upper class adopters will spend a greater portion of their income on the pet are not only behaving unethically, their assumption is baseless. Poor people spend about 1% of their income on their pets, just like other pet owners. While it’s true poor people have less to spend overall, it’s noteworthy that everyone is on the same level when percentages are calculated. In other words, those who can afford to spend more generously on their pets, don’t.
The survey did not find any increase in surrendering dogs (presumably to shelters) due to foreclosure. This “increased surrenders due to foreclosures” is a claim I’ve heard countless times in recent years from shelters all over the country. Is there a disconnect here?
The recession does not appear to have impacted pet expenditures. To my mind, there is a simple explanation for that: Pets are family.