You worry about your job. You turn on the TV and the news is upsetting. Your spouse is distant, and your kids are into their social networks. Whom do you turn to? If you're like most Americans, you'll be talking to your pet. And you won't much mind doing so, either.
And when I say "most Americans," I'm not exaggerating. Last month in Orlando at Global Pet Expo, Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, revealed the trade group's annual snapshot of the pet care industry, as well as the executive summary of the association's special two-year in-depth overview of who has pets, what kind, what they spend on them and why.
How many of us are there? Pet ownership is at an all-time high of 72.9 million households -- up 2.1 percent since the last survey two years ago -- and in those households, the number and variety of pets has also increased. Not surprising, that means the amount of money spent on these companion animals has barely hiccupped during the Great Recession, and is predicted to top $50 billion this year. For perspective, the amount of money spent on pets tops that spent on jewelry, candy and hardware, combined, and overall is the eighth-largest retail sector.
"I'm constantly amazed at the resilience of this industry," said Vetere in releasing the APPA figures. "Not only did we weather the recession very well, but we're poised to take advantage of the recovery."
While Vetere is speaking of the pet industry as a whole, it's clear from any time spent on the trade floor that not only have consumers been spending relatively freely on pets, but corporations have, too. The rate of acquisitions of small companies and hot product lines by big international players has been staggering. These companies are now squaring off like the superpowers they are, ready to compete tooth and claw against each other, both within the larger retail sector and in the pet care section. For example, the APPA press conference was followed by the product release of Fiproguard Plus, the Sergeant's Pet Care product that the company says has the same active ingredients as Frontline Plus made by pharmaceutical giant Merial. The difference? Fiproguard and other products will be sold directly to the consumer through retail outlets, not to pet owners through veterinarians.
The Sergeant's product will be competitively priced, of course, and that was the other underlying theme of the trade show. While you could still spot pricey bling here and there, such products were relatively rare compared to years past, and even the "silly stuff" is designed to be appealing in price as well as cuteness.
Aggressive pricing is what everyone's betting will lead the industry to another record-breaking year, as recession-battered consumers ease their way into the purchase of nonessentials with small buys that make them as happy as their pets do.
"Their pets were a rock after a horrible day," notes Vetere. "And now, people are wanting to reward their pets."
And that's what this industry is counting on.
Model good behavior
for kids with pets
Q: Any advice about cats for a family with three children from preschool to fourth grade? We're adopting a shelter cat -- our first "big" pet after success with hamsters and guinea pigs -- but we don't want anyone bitten or scratched.
A: Children and cats are natural together, but you need to lay some ground rules for the safety of both from the moment your new pet comes home. Kittens can be injured by the loving attention of children, especially young ones. And with about a half-million cat bites reported every year in the United States, you can clearly see that some cats give as good as they get.
The key to keeping children and cats together safely is to make sure that their interactions are supervised and to teach children how to handle and respect cats.
Toddlers can really try a cat's patience, even though they aren't being anything but normal. Young children can't understand that rough poking, squeezing and patting aren't appreciated. Although most cats figure out quickly that children this age are best avoided, your child could be bitten or scratched if your cat is cornered or startled. Keep an eye on all interactions, and consider putting a baby gate across the entry to a "safe room" for your cat, so he can have a place to go where he isn't pestered.
From the time a child is in school, he or she can start learning to care for a pet and take on an increasing amount of responsibility -- under supervision, of course. One way to teach younger school-aged children to play carefully is to play the "copycat game." If your child pets the cat gently, stroke his arm gently to show how nice it feels. Teach your children, too, how to hold a cat properly, with support under his chest and his legs not left dangling. A cat who feels secure and safe is far less likely to scratch or bite.– Gina Spadafori
Poll: Breed matters
less than training
-- Most people believe that training, not breeding, makes a dog either safe or dangerous. A poll by The Associated Press and Petside.com supports the idea that dangerous dog legislation should target all problem dogs, not just breeds believed by some to be a problem. About three-quarters of respondents believed all dog breeds are safe if properly trained, and 60 percent said all breeds should be allowed in residential communities. Only 38 percent believed breed-specific bans were appropriate. As for pit bull terriers, the No. 1 dog target by breed-specific legislation, age plays a large part in how the dogs are viewed: 76 percent of those under 30 believe pit bulls are safe, while only 37 percent of seniors believed the same.
-- The nation's first animal trauma center has been launched by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. The center will be used to help the school's veterinary hospital track how its staff handles cases and drive improvement in care. The new center is working with five other universities around the country to develop other trauma centers that should be able to share information in the future.
-- U.S. News and World Report named the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell as the nation's top veterinary program, followed by the programs at the University of California, Davis, and Colorado State University. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.