Pet Industry Trends for 2010

Pet industry trends 2010Surprise, surprise – the impact of the recession on consumer spending and attitudes will continue to dominate economics for pet-related small businesses in 2010. It has long been thought that pet-related spending is recession proof and 2009 certainly tested that theory. As a result, I think we can certainly say the pet category is at least recession resistant, with pet-related sales growing slightly in 2009. There aren’t too many categories that can say that in this difficult economic environment!

The overall trend continues to be value for money, which doesn’t necessarily mean spending less, but less frivolously. Pet-related spending will continue to increase from 2009 levels though as pet owners breathe a sigh of relief that the world didn’t end in 2009. Trends include:

1. Pet parents continue to spend on supplies and OTC medicine thoughtfully

Spending on pet supplies and over-the-counter medicines was projected to increase 5.1% in 2008 from $9.8 billion to $10.3 billion according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) but it turned out to be more modest growth of 2% to $10.0 billion, a major slow down from the 6+% increases of the recent past. The APPA projects continued growth of 2% in 2010, although I would not be surprised if it bounced a little higher in the range of 4%.

People will continue to spend above and beyond on their pets as the population ages and pets take the place of children at home; however, pet parents will continue to focus their dollars on quality necessities, such as food, leashes, and bedding, or low dollar frivolities such as the Pet Snuggie. High-end specialty pet stores are going to feel the pinch as the casual shopper won’t be dropping in as much and I expect we will see a drop in numbers of these stores in 2010 as the economy slowly improves but not fast enough to save all these stores.

2. Pet services for your pets continue to grow

According to the APPA, $3.2 billion dollars was spent on pet services in 2008, projected to grow over 6% to $3.4 billion in 2009. I don’t think anyone will be particularly surprised to see this growth continue for several years to come, particularly as retail behemoth Wal-Mart expands its pet grooming facilities further into its stores.

Pet parents are including their pets in their own lifestyles so visits to the spa, exercise regimes, and restaurants have become more common in urban areas. With the recession and decline of investment capital, my impression is that the number of day care accommodations are growing in number more modestly than prior to the recession; however, the business of doggie day cares continues to be a profitable one.

3. Growing interest in pet health care

While growth in pet supplies might be “languishing” in the 2% range, veterinary services are projected to grow 9.9% in 2009. I wouldn’t be surprised to see actual growth a little lower (veterinary inflation slowed significantly in late 2009 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics from about 7% early in 2009 to just over 4% 6 months later) but I still expect growth in the 6-8% range. Pet lovers continue to want the same treatment options for their pets as they can get for themselves and veterinarians are able to supply it.

4. Pet insurance continues to move towards the mainstream

We estimate the size of the US pet insurance market to be $332 million in premium in 2009, up from approximately $272 million in 2009 (a 22% increase) and I expect it to reach $400 million in 2010. We project that the market will grow to $600 million in 2013. There are 10 pet insurance companies in the US selling under 14 brands. The pet insurance market is seeing an increase in interest from private equity investors looking to get in early on the huge market potential. It remains to be seen if any of them open their check books in 2010 though.

5. Teacups join the tea party

If 2009 was the year of the “hybrid”, 2010 will be the year of the “teacup”. Puppy mills are turning their attention to “miniaturizing” certain breeds or passing off genetic misfits as a one in a million dog rather than the sickly pet they no doubt will be. Celebrity dog owners have not helped in that respect, carrying around their petit-pooches in their designer purses, and driving their admirers to want smaller and smaller dogs. Here’s hoping that this craze will be short-lived to spare the lives of these poor little dogs.

The business environment continues to challenge in 2009. Pets have drawn the attention of large retailers and institutional investors who have been expanding into the pet space. Savvy small businesses will take advantage of change to successfully place themselves uniquely in the market. Trends here include:

6. Pet businesses and non-profits thrive socially.

Social networking was not new in 2009 but the successes of the early adopters such as @PetsitUSA and @petrelocation are driving more and more pet businesses online. Pet-related small business owners have always known the power of numbers and are turning online to get noticed, one shopper or one business partner at a time, on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Many rescue organizations are using social networking as part of their funding drives such as the ASPCA and The Humane Society.

7. Larger players get larger.

Target and Wal-Mart are both expanding their pet selection and in the case of Wal-Mart, their services. Big box pet specialty retailers, such as PetSmart, continue to grow and PetSmart recently saw 9+% growth in its pet services, fueled by grooming services and new pet hotels. If PetSmart is feeling any pinch from Wal-Mart’s entry into pet grooming, there is no evidence of it at this point.

8. Customers tell it like it is, whether you like it or not.

Sales of items such as electronics and books have long benefited (or not) from online reviews and passionate customers stating their views on their purchases for good (or bad.) Pet products and services are now catching up with the growing popularity of review sites such as, product reviews on, and instantaneous feedback on Twitter. Companies that ignore the impact of these sites are going to be playing catch up in future years.

9. Increased online sophistication from pet-related businesses in ecommerce, design, and usability.

In 2009, several new players joined the pet health and pet adoption space. The web giant WebMD, known for its online human health information, has launched into the pet health expertise websites that appeared in 2008, in an attempt to use its brand and reach to take the top spot in this market. On the other hand,, an upstart online adoption database, launched to compete with the dominating market leader, PetFinder. We shall see in 2010 whether these two plays will be successful in their chosen niches. Overall, newer websites are more sophisticated in design and ecommerce, reaching their target audience via web-site usability, SEO, paid search, and word of mouth. These websites are still in the minority of a largely fragmented pet marketplace even in 2010, but this gives a savvy small business an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

10. Pet-related blogs continue to grow their influence.

The power of pet-related blogs really showed up during the pet food recall in the middle of 2007. Blogs such as Pet Connection, Pet Sit USA and Dolittler continue to provide high quality commentary on all aspects of pet news and issues, and are expanding their reach and depth across the pet web. The number of quality pet bloggers continues to grow and the best are even more accessible on the blog list website Alltop pets.

And one final bonus trend

11. Pets and taxes

There are a few initiatives involving pets and tax. First, the HAPPY Act, the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years Act, which is a proposal to allow taxpayers to deduct up to $3,500-a-year in pet care expenses, including vet care. I would be surprised if it went through but then again, legislators never cease to surprise. On the down side, California would seriously love to tax veterinary services, something it considered in 2009 but removed in the final budget. I fully expect that issue to raise its head again in a year or two although it would be vigorously opposed by pet lovers across the country. Finally, the Pet Health Consortium, a new group lead by AVMA (the American Veterinary Medical Association) to educate Congress and the public on the importance and benefits of pet health insurance, has a primary goal to include pet health insurance as an optional pre-tax benefit provided to employees through Section 125 cafeteria plans. This initiative, should it go through, won’t occur until 2011 at the earliest but we will likely see public discussion in 2010.


Laura Bennett Laura Bennett is the CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance. Over her career working in the insurance industry in Dublin, Ireland, and Toronto, Canada, she eventually landed in the United States where along with Alex Krooglik, the two of them founded Embrace Pet Insurance to combine their love of pets, the desire for entrepreneurship, and Laura's expertise in the insurance industry. Laura also writes a blog on pet-related issues, the Embrace Pet Insurance blog.

41 Reactions
  1. Laura,

    Thank you so much for another great Pet Trends article! I love your company, and I know you are out there trying to do the right things!

    Now, about that “proposal to allow taxpayers to deduct up to $3,500-a-year in pet care expenses, including vet care,” I am IN.

    The Franchise King

    • A deduction for pet care would promote better pet care and responsible pet owners. I would love to hear more on your idea.

  2. Thanks Joel, it’s always fun putting this article together. It generates such interesting discussion.

    And as for that proposal, I agree!

  3. Reading this post I couldn’t help but laugh because I have a friend who takes care of his dogs like they’re children. Heck, his dogs are actually bigger than most children.

  4. Laura Bennett: The pet industry is fascinating. I will link to your post when I am writing my catblogging post for Friday Ark.

    Please explain the meaning of a pet “teacup”.

  5. Martin, thanks for asking about “teacup” and what it means. I forget that not eveyrone lives inside my head! A “teacup” dog is a miniaturized pet, something much smaller than usual. You generally only see them of already small breeds like poodles and yorkies and they are often premature puppies and can be quite sickly. They are not a distinct breed at all.


  6. Laura, Thanks for your answer! Could you call Paris Hilton’s dogs for “tea pot” dogs? 😉 Morris is the cat is contemplating about your blog post in a post on cat food…

  7. Lol! I have to admit, I haven’t been keeping up with Paris’s pups these days. Love Morris contemplating… looks like he’s been up all night thinking about pet trends.

  8. Laura: Yes, Morris is taking a break in his “cubicle”. Is it your cat in the photo on your Twitter profile page @LauraBennett?

  9. Yes – I have three. Rocket and Rosie are in the photo. Lily was snoozing at home

  10. Great information! Thanks for taking the time to compile the these trends. It’s intriguing to see the whole nine yards coming ahead of these pet industry trends.

  11. Thank you for the information.
    Keep on updating your blog, sure did help us and give us more insight.
    Have a good day.

  12. Keep on updating your blog, sure did help us a lot. It surely gives your readers such a distinctive topic. Have a good day.

  13. I think one important thing that wasnt mentioned in this article is the fact that pet owners are becoming wise to pet food industry practices when it comes to pet food. Just in 2009 alone (not counting the 2007 pet food recalls) there were several major pet food companies that had what is known with some pet owners as “silent” pet food recalls. They quietly pull food off of store shelves because they learn of a problem with their food. While that sounds good, they conveniently fail to advertise the recall so that pet owners that have the food at home and are currently feeding it to their cat or dog, are not aware of the recall and may be putting their pets at risk.

  14. Laura,

    As a leader in the pet sitting industry we LOVE your article! We will be passing it onto the masses at It gives a really great overview of the entire pet industry and helps show the trends and the strength of this awesome industry.


    Bella Vasta

  15. Very cool stuff! I would love the tax deduction on pet care expenses. Think about what this would do for the pet insurance industry which is ridiculously far behind here in the states as compared to the UK.

    Also of note to people here might be a little infographic I put up on my site here:

  16. I am looking for information on wireless or GPS pet tracking systems. Have you bought one, if so where and what did you like/hate about it?

    I have a client who has a great product that we are trying to take to market. I would be interested in understanding more about what is out there.

  17. Think about what this would do for the pet insurance industry which is ridiculously far behind here in the states as compared to the UK.

  18. I think pet owners or pet parents nowadays are willing to spend and invest on pet supplies in the market because they love to see their pets with its fancy wears and styles. They would even spent money for pet grooming salons.

  19. One of the best coupon providers with the most coupons for pet supplies is Coupon Mountain, with coupons for pet supplies, pet medications, and online deals for most of the major pet supply retailers.

  20. Great article! Social media is a fantastic tool for pet businesses and pet owners to connect to each other. Just today I’ve seen posts on lost dog alerts, pets available for adoption and health tips on Twitter – a wealth of information within easy reach.

  21. Terri Cooledge-Guzman

    I just love reading these articles. I have known this for so long. I have been a dog groomer for 26yrs. I see first hand what people spend on their pets. Unfortunately, being a single mother for 23 of the 26yrs, I am not rich. I have always had to work for someone else, besides my few special customers I do at my house and a couple at their houses.
    I see people blow so much money all the time. Amounts that would be life-changing for me. I just want my own business. I have the brains, the talent, and I have references.
    I just wish I had the money. I know all about this business and there is money to be made!!
    Thanks for letting me vent 🙂

  22. my dad is veterinarian and we own small clinic to care mostly cats and dogs in our small town. This 2011 we can say that pet business will be better than 2010. Much more newlyweds adopt 1 or 2 cat/dogs, not sure why but we are happy 🙂

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  24. “2. Pet services for your pets continue to grow”

    I think this will continue to be true as the Baby Boomer generation ages and have need of more help for both themselves and their pets.

  25. Hi Laura
    I have a question and im hoping maybe you can help me. Im a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology and I am doing a huge research project on Empty Nest parents looking to fill the void with pets. I was wondering if maybe you knew of some information that might help me with statistics and demographics. I would appreciate it a lot. Thank you.


  26. Do you see more and more pet owners using the internet to communicate their likes/dislikes since the original article? Any update on this social effect would be nice

  27. I recently read an article that there are insurance fraud cases of people maiming or actually killing their pets to cash in on their policies. Just wondering if situations like this have been monitored or explored?

  28. Pet insurance can be very hit or miss. i had it for awhile but ended up cancelling and creating my own ‘pet insurance’ fund that i regularly contribute to and for about the price of netflix signed up with a vet discount plan. the one i have is called Pet Assure and combined with my rainy day fund has proven to be a winning combination. good luck in your search!