U.S. Government Reports on Our Pet Expenditures

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.

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16 Comments

  1. This is an interesting post. I was also intrigued by the “field representative” position described in the Hartford Courant article — the person who goes out and collects all this pet information on behalf of the government. What a job that must be! Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  2. kathleen gentile

     /  May 22, 2013

    this got me curious…so I figured out what I spend. Between food,treats,rabies and heart worm preventative….$900 per year. And that does not include any other vet visits,toys,ect. I am on a fixed income (disability) and my four babies always come first.

    Reply
    • I think it’s important to keep in mind that there are many homes out there that have just 1 or 2 pets. And the Courant implies that the survey included all manner of pets from horses to hamsters. IDK if this is accurate since I haven’t looked at the actual survey but if so, it would certainly allow for a wide variation in expenditures.

      Reply
    • FixCharlotte

       /  May 22, 2013

      Geez, right there with you! Eight cats equals about two thousand a year. That’s including vets, food and “stuff”…

      Reply
  3. I think the major point of this is that even in the recession, the majority ofpeople continue to care for their pets. A veterinarian friend of mine who has two practices, one in an affluent area and one in a working class area once told me that during economic downturns, his affluent clients were the ones that reduced their veterinary services while the working class clients maintained theirs. Obviously that is anecdotal, but still an interesting observation.

    Reply
    • That totally makes sense to me, because wealthier people would be the ones doing things that aren’t completely necessary in the first place. If you’re getting “luxury” services, then you can reduce your spending and still be taking adequate care of your pets. Also, I completely agree that the main point is that people continue to care for their pets even in a recession, and IMO it doesn’t make a lot of sense to make comparisons among individual households. There are way too many variables.

      Reply
  4. suju bala

     /  May 22, 2013

    “pets are family”
    yes, yes, yes and yes..

    Reply
  5. Oh man, I wish I only spent $500 a year on my two dogs!!

    Reply
  6. *blink*
    they obviously didn’t survey my household! We spend way more than 1% of our income on our animals (two dogs and a cat)…..

    Reply
    • heck, I spend more than $500 per year per pet!

      Reply
    • It’s averages though. I thought the part about singles spending the least sounded weird, because the single people I know (including myself) tend to baby their pets and spend an inordinate amount of money on them. But OTOH the singles I know who have pets are mostly women with relatively high incomes, which is a sort of a niche demographic that probably doesn’t account for a large number of households.

      Reply
      • They still aren’t anywhere close to what we spend on the animals in the household. Heck, I just spent over $600 having Apollos hips and elbows Xrayed and OFA certified!!

  7. It would be just about impossible for me to calculate how much I spend annually on the pets. So much of the food they eat is food we eat. And a bottle of Ivomec, which I use for HW (and courtesy of Wendy, sarcoptic mange!) lasts me for years and years. Just a couple of examples.

    Reply
    • That’s us. We spend very, very little on our pets outside of food. So much of what they eat is what we eat, and even their toys are often discarded children’s toys.

      Reply
  8. “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).”

    Hmm. I wouldn’t be able to break down my expense categories like this at all! I don’t really come from a bread-loving culture (though replace ‘bread’ with rice and noodles, perhaps?), don’t eat cereal because I’m lactose intolerant, reading materials are my WORK as a grad student, and “pet food” frequently overlaps with “chicken” as a category.

    I do happen to know what I spent on the pets for the last couple years down to the dollar, just because I happen to tracking on my blog… And yeah, even on a fixed (low) income, even in this recession, I plug on with the same pet expenses I’ve always had because hey… their food is just as necessary as mine!

    Anyway, fascinating. Will check out the original link.

    Reply

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