Our pets can be personal and family drivers of health and health care cost savings, according to a new study from according to a new report from researchers at George Mason University published in their paper, Health Care Cost Savings of Pet Ownership.
Reviewing this new paper inspired me to explore the current state of the pet/health market and implications for their human families, my weaving of various stories explored in this Health Populi blog post. Some of the key signposts we’ll cover are:
- The report on pet ownership driving owners’ health care cost savings
- A new market analysis of the pet industry from Circana (the newly-combined organization of IRI and NPD, the retail market data gurus)
- Morgan Stanley’s recent read on pet ownership post-pandemic
- Walmart’s entry into telehealth for pets, bolstering their Amazon-Prime-competitive position
- Petco’s ESG report, which sounds a lot like a human health care mission; and,
- A Humane Society look at pet poverty in the United States,
with a few additional snippets of interest to complete the market picture on pets and health in America.
Let’s begin with what inspired me to dig into this marketspace to begin with: the study on health care cost savings of pet ownership. As I track health care spending in consumers’ households for a living, this research sounded very compelling and inside-the-wheelhouse for me.
The report reviews the literature which has already recognized the link between pet ownership and improved health conditions and outcomes for pet owners, documenting the growth of pet ownership int he U.S. through the pandemic during which one-sixth of pet owners obtained a new pet. Research into the impact of pet ownership on mental health has expanded, with growing evidence bases that explore pets’ positive influences on helping people deal with anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The total savings calculated owing to pet ownership was nearly $23 billion; the first table summarizes various aspects of cost-savings among U.S. pet owners, specifically:
- $15 bn of dollars saved due to averted physician office visits
- $4.5 bn savings attributable to obesity reduction,
- s1.8 bn saved attributable to mental health care costs of socially isolated seniors
- Over one-half billion dollars saved in mental health costs for anxiety in children ages 8-10 years of age, and,
- $688 mm saved for Veteran PTSD treatments (via emotional support and service animals).
The authors acknowledge limitations in the study, and also that these cost-savings estimates are probably low. But they give us a good indication of the positive impacts, both emotionally and fiscally, that pets can generate to individuals, families, communities, and the macro/health economy overall.
“If it seems as though everyone you know added a family member with fur, feathers or fins during the pandemic, the data show that you’re right,” Morgan Stanley’s AlphaWise survey of pet owners found. The investment bank expects an 8% compound annual growth rate for the pet industry by 2030 — one of the largest rates of return in retail in its estimation.
The bar chart from the research tells us that the youngest population cohort of 18-34 year old’s had the highest growth rate for all pets considered — but even 53% of folks 55+ adopted a pet in 2022 — dogs, followed by cats for the oldest cohort.
And spending on our fur families is increasingly inelastic, Morgan Stanley asserts, that spend spending is routine and a sign that people are very attached to their pets — with consumers less willing to cut pet spending even when real personal income falls.
Circana’s read on pet trends in the pet market, released this week, asserts that in 2022 alone, year on year dollar sales of pet care products grew 16%. Pet treats, in particular, were a growing category in terms of product trips per buyer to the pet care aisle. Is this like a lipstick-effect impact for our pets, akin to our small luxury purchases we treat ourselves to in inflationary times? That’s how I’m looking at this phenomenon.
Now consider Walmart’s announcement this week that the company would offer pet telehealth collaborating with Pawp, a veterinary telemedicine provider, in an effort to expand its value-bundle of omni-channel things consumers appreciate — competitively positioning it against Amazon Prime subscription.
Telehealth for pets grew in the COVID-19 pandemic as virtual care pivoted to humans, pets’ parents; veterinarians were challenged by many of the same forces medical doctors faced during lockdown and consumers’ desire to avoid coronavirus exposure.
From vet-telehealth to pet foods focused on gut-health and microbiomes, “‘Fur babies’ have found a permanent place in the hearts, and spending habits, of consumers across the country and world,” Morgan Stanley insists.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: With these industry updates in mind, we’ll turn to a new ESG report in which Petco Demonstrates Progress in Supporting the Health of Pets, People and Planet, published May 19.
In reviewing the report in detail as I’ve been tracking ESG efforts across the health/care ecosystem for a while, I pulled out this fascinating graphic on “Whole Health” from Petco’s publication.
Doesn’t it look and feel like a similar drawing from any health care organization’s ESG filing, whether health plan, health provider, or life science company?
I’m particularly struck by the five pie-chart elements of physical health, mental health, social health, home health, and accessible health. Truly, pet owners (and the industry that serves fur and fin families) are now part of overall health/care ecosystem that has served human health.
And just as humans face the key driver of health of financial well-being — or household fiscal erosion — pet poverty is a real thing, discussed by the Humane Society in this video. “Many families are struggling to afford and access veterinary care, food and supplies for their beloved pets. More than 20 million pets live in poverty – three times as many pets live in poverty as enter shelters every year. This is a long overlooked national crisis exacerbated by inflation and the economy,” the Humane Society explains.