JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Pet ownership isn’t cheap, but instead of cutting costs on pet necessities like food and health products, most dog and cat parents are adjusting other areas of their budgets to prioritize their companions’ expenses.

This was one of several key findings from a Pet Ownership Shopper Insights Study conducted by Acosta Group, a collection of retail and distribution, marketing and foodservice agencies, from Jan. 11 to 17. The survey included 1,137 pet-owning primary household shoppers ages 18 and up and asked questions related to how they discover, shop and budget for pet products.

According to the survey, 96% of pet owner participants said they consider their pet or pets as part of the family, and 86% would reevaluate their own budget items before cutting costs on pet products.

“Our study validates the deep bonds people establish with their pets as true members of their families,” said Kathy Risch, senior vice president of thought leadership and shopper insights at Acosta Group. “These connections drive informed decisions on the ongoing purchases made throughout their pets’ lives.”  

The survey also asked pet owners what they prioritize when selecting pet food products. High-protein content was a top consideration for 42% of respondents, while 40% were predominantly focused on products that cater to joint care. Not far behind is gut health, with 38% of respondents making this a priority in their pet food purchases.

Less processed diets continue to catch consumers’ eyes, as 36% of respondents expressed interest in either fresh or minimally processed diets and supplements for their pets. According to Acosta Group, these sentiments mirror pet owners’ own dietary priorities; 41% of consumers, respectively, are seeking high-protein foods, fresh foods and food items with probiotics for themselves.

“We find it highly informative that when considering pet food, pet parents tend to look for many of the same health benefits that they are seeking in their own food,” said Lisa Goff, vice president of Acosta’s Pet Team. “This further confirms the fact that pet parents are prioritizing the health and wellbeing of their dogs and cats when making these purchase decisions.”

Acosta Group asked these survey participants about how they find information about pet care items, finding 52% of dog and cat owners tend to use online resources to search and sort product reviews, learn about ingredients and packaging, and compare prices.

These pet owners also revealed their brand loyalty when it comes to pet product purchases, with 57% of dog owners and 59% of cat owners likely to purchase from brands whose products they’ve already bought in the past. By generation, Millennial pet owners seem to be more impulsive when choosing pet products, with 58% of this cohort admitting they are influenced by in-store promotions. The survey also found that 58% of dog owners specifically purchased treats as an impulse buy.

All in all, most participants in Acosta Group’s survey listed mass retailers, pet specialty stores and e-commerce platforms as their top choices for purchasing pet products.

Continued inflation has impacted the pet food category, as well as prices for veterinary care and pet insurance. According to Acosta Group, 82% of survey respondents have noticed price hikes for pet medicines, vaccines and supplements. This raises the question — how much would the average pet owner spend in the event of a medical emergency? The survey revealed pet owners are willing to shell out between $2,000 and $3,000 to care for a pet that has become unexpectedly ill.

“These consumers are highly committed to making the right choices for their pets, prioritizing health over the cost of products,” Goff added. “Pet parents are looking for trusted and educated resources, providing brands and retailers an important opportunity to strengthen that relationship and subsequently grow their business.”

With these shopper insights in mind. Acosta Group also shared tips for pet product retailers and brands to meet evolving pet owner needs. One of these tips for brands was to call out on-trend claims, like fresh and natural ingredients or health benefits, on product packaging and in promotional materials. Retailers were advised to “create a truly seamless in-store and online experience” to cater to these discerning shoppers, which could include personalized marketing campaigns and educational social media content.

Keep up with the latest pet food trends on our Trends page.