Millennials Lead the Way in Pet Care

Couple on couch with dog

By Steve Dale

Millennials (the generation born between 1981 and 1996) are on the right track when it comes to their pets. They are taking their heads out of their phones and showing up for preventive care for pets, including cats, more than previous generations.

While pet ownership has risen overall since 2000, routine care visits have suffered a significant decline. According to a 2011 study, 28 percent of dog owners say veterinary visits are stressful for them, and 38 percent say their dogs hates vet visits. On the cat side, 38 percent saying their cats are stressed by the vet visit, and 58 percent say their cat hates going to and being at the vet clinic. With those attitudes, it’s no wonder routine care has declined.

The American Veterinary Medical Association response, called Partners for Healthy Pets, and various studies have confirmed the problem. They suggest solutions that until now have not resonated with pet owners or even caught on among veterinary professionals.

The real solution might be happening right now, with Millennials leading the way.

Pet Parent Trend

When you think about it, Millennial attachment to pets isn’t a shocker. This is the generation that dubbed their pets “fur babies” or refer to themselves as pet parents. Pet product purchases among Millennials is on the rise. Millennial pet parents think nothing of dressing up pets for Halloween or having their pet wear the sweater of their favorite football team. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) Pet Owners Survey 2017-2018, just over 70 percent of Millennial dog caretakers and 55 percent of Millennial cat caretakers say their pet “is like a child.”

The human-animal bond has never been more intense.

The Google Generation

While all age groups enjoy social media, many Millennials live there in a sort of alternative reality. And they don’t live there alone; their pets are right there with them.

Who would have predicted that cats would become the most clicked topic on the web? Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub, Venus and Cole, and Marmalade are among the many rock star celebrity cats of Instagram and are household names among many Millennials.

Cat cafes now exist in most major American cities. When they are visited, a super-highway of cute cat images speeds onto Instagram. Millennials also foster and adopt more cats than other generations.

Millennial Stats

Now, combine all that with some additional data. Only 21 percent of Millennials are married, while 42 percent of Baby Boomers were married at the same age. Most millennials have at least one pet and more pets overall than any other demographic. Living in apartments in greater numbers today than previous generations, they are more likely to have cats or live with combined species, at least one dog and also at least one cat than Baby Boomers did at that same age.

While debt occurs among younger Millennials, it decreases significantly among older Millennials. Most important, Millennials are willing to spend on their pets – even if they don’t have the money. Millennial pet needs an expensive surgery? They are known to crowd-fund for it.

There are caveats.

Millennials are the most educated generation ever, and the most connected. Going online is what they do – and increasingly it’s what all people of any demographic do. No one’s word is considered gospel – including veterinary professionals.

And as with all clients, perception is reality. If Millennials perceive their beloved dog or cat isn’t being treated well or that they are not receiving value for what they paid, they won’t hesitate to find another clinic that better matches their expectations.

Power of the Bond

All of this describes why Cat Friendly Practices, the Fear Free Initiative, and Human-Animal Bond Certified Practices have happened at exactly the right time. Millennials “get” the human-animal bond far more than previous generations, and as a result the emotional wellbeing of their pets matters as much as physical wellbeing.

The following is from a Human Animal Bond Research Initiative and Banfield study, “Millennials and the Human Animal Bond”:

  • 77 percent of Millennials would have a more favorable view of veterinarians if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them.
  • 74 percent of Millennials would be more likely to visit their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them.
  • 25 percent of Millennials regularly talk to their veterinarians about the health benefits of pet ownership, more than other generations.

There’s no doubt that the Fear Free initiative to minimize fear, anxiety, and stress of veterinary visits has been responsible for a major paradigm shift. Not only do most veterinary professionals know about Fear Free, pet parents are seeking out Fear Free certified professionals and Fear Free practices. There’s no data (yet) to demonstrate that Millennials are leading the way. But there is data to demonstrate Millennials leading the way on increasing veterinary visits, and that they care greatly about their animals’ emotional health. Extrapolating that millennials are championing Fear Free isn’t a stretch.

Surveyed about Fear Free, 96 percent of Fear Free professionals recommend the program, and an equal percent say patient care has increased.

Clearly, what Millennials are seeking is answered with bond-centered approaches and what Fear Free and Cat Friendly both inherently address. It’s likely that Fear Free concepts such as “considerate approach” and “gentle handling” resonate most among Millennials.

Millennials are demanding the best medical care ever for their pets, and that is a good thing.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.