Aging Pet Owners, Aging Pets

Recently, we conducted a survey on pet owners among the women aged 45-65 who gather at our website and beyond. While we were not surprised to learn about this generation’s disproportionately high spending in a $50 billion industry, we gained some new insights into the unique issues facing aging pet owners – and their aging pets.

Women and pets: The empty nester’s new child?

When we asked Boomer women whether they consider their pets to be a part of their families, all of them – a full 100% – said yes. 

And when we asked if they were the primary decision-maker when it comes to purchases and care for their pet(s), 90% of them said yes.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me – an active father of young children – I would not have answered yes to either of these questions. I love our dog and cat, but I do not consider them to be full members of my family, and I would not make healthcare decisions (to use one example) as if they were. And while I don’t object to the dollars my household does spend on them, I definitely do not consider myself the primary decision-maker on pet purchase decisions.



Female pet owners make up a remarkably rich target for manufacturers, retailers and others selling pet products and services. Much of the energy and discretionary dollars they once focused on their children are now focused on their pets.

What does this mean for marketers?

Forty million aging women think about their pets a little differently than the rest of us. First, pets are different to manage and care for as you age. And, second, pets that are aging themselves present new challenges for their also-aging owners.

Pet Healthcare

Healthcare grows in importance as humans age, and market-based solutions are rarely satisfactory. The same is true for pets.

Eight percent of our survey respondents told us that they have health insurance for their pets – a number far higher than the national average (other surveys suggest that only 1% of pets are covered by health insurance). And 48% of our respondents have concerns about healthcare costs for their pets. Boomers may represent the ideal market for pet insurance: Although many of them have it already, even more want it. Pet insurers may have only scratched the surface of this important market.

The midlife pet owner often finds herself also managing a midlife pet, one who shares her daily aches and pains. The list of aging-pet needs that this customer will pay to address goes on and on. It can include more comfortable beds or furniture that make it easier for the pet to rest comfortably; prescription arthritis medication; hip replacement surgery; and collars and leads that make it easier for aging arms to restrain a strong dog without causing either of them pain. 

Loving Pets and Loving Travel

I have written here before about the dollars that Boomer women are spending on travel. And now we know more about the dollars they are spending on pets. When you put the two together, you see that there is a rich market opportunity to serve the women who want to travel with their pets, and the women who want to leave their pets behind.

Fifty-two percent of our respondents said they travel with their pets (and those who do so take an average of three trips per year with their pets). And 54% says that they have difficulty making travel plans because of their pets. These two findings indicate a host of rich business opportunities targeting the Boomer pet owner: first, products and services that maker it easier to travel with your pet, and second, products that ease the mind of a traveling Boomer about the condition of the pet(s) left behind.

PetSmart had a clear bead on this opportunity when it recently announced plans to extend its line of Martha Stewart products to a “Camp Martha” concept, offering outdoor camping and travel solutions for pets and their owners. Other opportunities could include pet car seats (for safety and better views) and monitoring systems that let owners see how pets are doing when they are on the road. 

Pets can play an increasingly important role in the lives of their aging owners. So can businesses that serve them both.

7 comments about "Aging Pet Owners, Aging Pets".
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  1. James Webb from Massive Strategy, June 10, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.

    There is some powerful segmentation at work in the pet food space, and I know from extensive research I've conducted that the "high involvement" pet owners are men and women across a wide demographic. While older women may in fact be more involved owners, the brands they buy are driven by other ANU dynamics. Thanks for writing this as it's a huge industry that doesn't seem to get much PR.

  2. Judith Brower fancher from Brower, Miller & Cole, June 10, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.

    In addition to the high-level major marketing points of this well-done piece, there is another job opportunity here for people who just need a job: pet babysitters who will come to the owners' homes while they are out of town to take care of pets will be a growing field.

  3. Yvonne Divita from BlogPaws, June 10, 2013 at 1:38 p.m.

    I love reading articles like this. As a Boomer Woman, with 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren, I am proud to let the world know my in-house rescue dogs and one cat are my children now. I have always been an animal lover but these days, I am ever more consumed by the need to show how much our pets influence our very health and welfare, over time. As such, I'm part of a growing community of boomer women focused on the many ways our pets bring not only love and companionship, but better health and a focus on the most important things in life - which are beyond the material possessions we own. Our community, BlogPaws, loves hearing from pet parents everywhere... and yes, those folks who are members of BlogPaws, are pet parents, not pet owners. And, we're proud to say so.

  4. Tom Collins from Windsor Media Enterprises, Inc., June 10, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.

    Hey, Stephen,

    Nothing about the survey results you report come as a surprise to me. As a boomer, with adult children out on their own and four fur-kids at home with us (3 dogs and 1 cat "to rule them all"), we most certainly do treat our pets as family.

    And they do the same for us.

    I hope it never happens, but I suspect you might be over-estimating your decision making power, if your wife and kids are with you should a life-or-death health issue arise for one of your pets. Try to imagine yourself in a situation faced routinely by many parents elsewhere on the planet (and even in the U.S. until Obamacare fully kicks in): a sick child, no health insurance, and the choice of paying for treatment vs. eating or paying the rent. That's how most pet parents feel when they're at the vet with a sick pet.

    In any case, the main point of your report is dead on: Pet brands have a huge opportunity to connect with the pet people you've helped them identify. And many of the most active and engaged members of that audience are already getting together online and face-to-face, at our BlogPaws pet social media community and conference,

    Thanks for sharing your important research,


  5. Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality, June 10, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.

    As a 44-year old professional, I am a dog mom. I love it when folks call me a dog mom; I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells in me.

    I buy cotton swabs, I use baby wipes on my dog after a muddied walk or rainy day, and I could probably circumnavigate the globe twice with the amount of paper towels I’ve used in a lifetime of what some would call dog ownership. I like to call it pet parenting.

    But even though I consider myself a dog mom, I know that my dog isn't a child. If the fates honor me with my dog-sharing life for a solid 15 years or more, unlike a teenager at age 15, my dog isn’t asking for the car keys, won’t enter the dating world, and will never become a source of gray hair as I worry because he is out 10 minutes past curfew. His time is getting limited, at this ripe old age.

    Dogs live short lives; we know this when we accept the responsibility of dog parenting. I shop in the same stores as moms with human children, yet there is a stigma that in some way it might be odd to consider me a mom. My credit cards are accepted, my legal tender works the same way, I shop and bargain hunt in a similar capacity, and oh: I tell my friends and followers, who, in turn, listen to me and my sagely advice. Then they go to the stores or visit a website and do the same things, as dog moms and dog dads. And I know I am not alone.

    I feel like the brands of the world often miss a huge marketplace with us dog moms and dads. The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that “PetSmart Thrives Treating Owners Like Pet Parents.” We’re not losing our marbles, we’re being embraced and converted to dollar signs, for wag’s sake! With the American Pet Products Association reporting an estimated $52 billion projected to be spent in the pet industry in 2012, I realize I am not alone. Hello, brands: It’s me, the dog mom.

    My pet is a family member. I am not the crazy dog lady, but I am more representative of the dynamic you speak of in your article.

    I concur with the response above mine that states, "Try to imagine yourself in a situation faced routinely by many parents elsewhere on the planet (and even in the U.S. until Obamacare fully kicks in): a sick child, no health insurance, and the choice of paying for treatment vs. eating or paying the rent. That's how most pet parents feel when they're at the vet with a sick pet."

    Well written piece and nice to see MediaPost sharing the dynamic that exists, shops, frets, buys, worries, and is today's modern woman with a pet: We are family.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 10, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.

    Your doggies are not part of your family ? Ask your kids. If you still feel that way about parentingand responsibilities, then you should not have the privilege of having children. Not all of us can have doggie or kitty children, but we all should appreciate children and teaching them right from wrong.

  7. Bobbi Proctor from Editor & Publisher, June 10, 2013 at 5:26 p.m.

    If you have a pet and you do not consider it family, you should not have a pet. As a boomer woman with a grown child, my child is still my family, but my 3 rescue dogs are my family. My husband feels this way, also! And my son, who has his own life and apartment, has a pet he considers family. It is, and should be a burgeoning market! Please don't mistake your dog for a creature that doesn't understand you, or have feelings - because he/she does!!

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