Millennial pet parents

7 things your grandparents would have never done for their pets

How generational differences are reflected in our relationships with pets

Our relationships with pets have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

Things that are now mainstream in the care of pets were simply not done when our grandparents of the Silent or Baby Boomer generations were young – or these things were reserved for crazy cat ladies, lonely weirdos or wealthy eccentrics.

While much has changed between then and now, there are seven things we know our grandparents would have never done for their pets.

  1. Treat the pet like a member of the family, referring to a pet as a “fur baby” and themselves as “pet parents”

Nearly half of pet owners surveyed in the 2017 Trupanion pet owner study, call themselves “pet parents” and refer to their pets as “fur babies” or “fur kids.” Millennials are two times more likely to refer to their pets as fur babies than Baby Boomers. As we’ve seen in numerous reports, Millennials take their pet responsibilities very seriously, and more are choosing to have pets than babies.

Our grandparents thought of their pets as friends or companions, but often considered pets dirty and unwelcome sofa or bed mates. And if they were like my grandparents, the pets had chores. The dog’s job was to protect home and family from human and animal threats, while cats earned their keep and dinner by controlling the rodent population.

  1. Buy calming medicine for their pet

Our grandparents simply accepted and often cursed the dog that quaked, cowered or howled during a thunderstorm, and they relocated the cat that inappropriately urinated in the house to the outdoors.

In the most recent American Pet Products Association Pet Owners Survey, 7 percent of dog owners said they give calming medication to their dogs. Yet in the same study 10 years prior, pet owners did not report giving any calming medications to their dogs.

There are now several FDA-approved treatments for a wide range of pet anxiety and behavioral issues. For example, there is Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride) from Elanco, used for treating separation anxiety in dogs, and Zoetis introduced Sileo (dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel), which is the first and only FDA-approved medication for noise anxiety in dogs.

For an added dose of complexity, pet parents have numerous OTC remedies – everything from supplements, essential oils, herbals and yes, even cannabis-derived products – to administer to their anxious pets.

  1. Take leave from work to care for a new pet

In an early 2018 survey of Millennial pet owners sponsored by TD Ameritrade, 68 percent said they would take leave to care for a new pet if their employer offered it.

Grandpa is rolling over in his grave on that one. When he and Grandma got a new dog, they fed it, set a fresh bowl of water by the outdoor doghouse, chained the new pup near said doghouse, gave it a pat and went to work.

  1. Take a pay cut so they could bring their pets to work with them every day

Grandpa could not imagine bringing a dog to work with him unless he was a policeman or rancher. And he certainly wouldn’t have taken a pay cut to do it. But today, it can be a valuable perk.

A 2018 study of Millennial pet owners sponsored by online retailer zulily revealed that 71 percent of those surveyed would take a pay cut to bring their pet to work. Startlingly, 21 percent said they would take more than a 20-percent pay cut to bring Rover or Fluffy to work with them.

  1. Use monitoring devices to track their pets’ whereabouts or to check-in while they’re at work to see what their pets are doing

Granted, GPS trackers, pet cameras and the Internet weren’t available when the Boomers were young. But they would be stunned to know that among pet owners surveyed by the Consumer Technology Association, 27 percent own GPS trackers and 19 percent own pet cameras.

  1. Regularly buy gifts for their pets

Sure, Grandma probably bought a special treat at the butcher for Rover or she gave Fluffy a wind-up mouse to help keep those hunting instincts sharp. It’s doubtful, though, that Grandma spent $90 per year on Rover or $65 per year on gifts for Fluffy, which is what Millennial pet parents spent in 2017.

In contrast, more than half of Millennial pet owners in the zulily survey buy gifts for their fur babies once a month. And on average, they buy their pets four gifts per month.

  1. Have a rat for a pet… ever

According to a study by RightPet with 17,000 pet owners, children between the ages of 10-17 prefer pet rats, finding their relationships with pet rats more satisfying than with any other type of pet, including dogs and cats. (By the way, according to a post on RightPet, rats like to be tickled.)

For our grandparents, rats were for cats to control. Rats were not pets, at least not for normal people like themselves… maybe for that creepy kid up the street.

While these generational differences in relationships with pets have and will continue to represent significant upside for marketers, veterinarians and retailers, they also tell us one more thing.

We don’t want the mindsets of our grandparents (and probably not our parents) managing the marketing and messaging to the spare-no-expense-for-my-fur-baby Millennial pet parents. Though more pragmatic, Grandpa and Grandma were less empathetic about their pets and would be even less so with the needs and expectations of the highly engaged pet parents of today.

Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser, an avid lover of pets, and enjoys marketing pet products and services to those of all generations.