More Americans are choosing fish, birds and small animals as pets in what the market research firm Packaged Facts called a likely rebound in ownership of those species and a positive sign for retailers.
The Packaged Facts report, released this month, found that 84.3 million fish make up nearly 73 percent of the pet population when dogs and cats are excluded. Fish-owning households totaled 7.2 million in 2012, up about 100,000 from the previous year.
The report noted that owners of fish, birds, reptiles and small animals tended to be younger, less educated and less affluent than pet owners in general. They also relied more on social media.
Bird owners, for example, were 24 percent more likely than the average pet owner to trust product information discovered on a social sharing website. Avian households totaled 4.6 million in 2012, down from 5.8 million in 2008, when the economic recession took hold. The good news for retailers, Packaged Facts added, is that the number has spiked by 24 percent since 2010, when just 3.7 million households had birds.
Pet professionals would be wise to engage the owners of fish, birds, reptiles and small animals, co-authors Robert Brown and Ruth Washton wrote.
“These pet owners represent big business for the pet industry,” the writers emphasized. “They groom and board their birds, buy toys for their iguanas, purchase medications for their turtles, take their gerbils to the vet, decorate their fish tanks and, of course, buy food for all of the tens of millions of pets that they own besides their cats and dogs.”
An area of concern for retailers is the reptile segment. About 1.8 million households cared for 3.9 million reptiles in 2012, down from 2.3 million households in 2008, the Rockville, Md., firm reported.
One reason for the decline may be the expenses involved. The report pointed to an American Pet Products Association survey that found maintaining lizards or iguanas cost an average of $212 and $176, respectively, in 2010. Turtle and tortoise owners doled out $102, while frog and toad owners spent $71.
Compared to the average pet owner, people caring for reptiles were more likely to be single, age 18 to 24 and not employed full time.
The most popular small animals are rabbits, whose population totals 4.2 million and whose caretakers are more likely than the average pet owner to be female and age 18 to 24.
Rabbits were claimed by 39 percent of small animal owners in 2010, compared to 25 percent opting for hamsters and 24 percent choosing guinea pigs.
Packaged Facts also identified what it called a “Noah’s ark” in the homes of rabbit lovers. While 75 percent of dog and cat owners do not have other types of pets, the report stated, more than half of rabbit households cared for fish and 23 percent maintained birds.
Children serve a prime role when it comes to which animals are in a household and which pet products are purchased, the report added.
“Compared to pet owners who have cats and dogs exclusively, owners of pets such as fish, reptiles and small animals are much more likely to have children in their households,” the co-authors stated. “One element of family dynamics that should be recognized by pet industry marketers is that children have a strong influence on the brands chosen by owners of fish, rabbits and reptiles.”
Children are present in nine out of every 10 hamster households and in about 60 percent of fish, rabbit and small animal homes, according to the report.
Packaged Facts harvested its numbers from a variety of sources, including the APPA report, the Summer 2012 Experian Simmons National Consumer Study and Pet Product News International’s 2012 State of the Industry Survey.