The way we view — and treat — our pets is changing, especially among young people. Here's a quiz to figure out if you're a "pet owner" or a "pet parent" (and by the way, we're talking about dogs and cats here):
Are you the "mom" or "dad"?
Do you refer to your pet as a "daughter," "son," "fur baby?"
Do you have a stroller or buy clothes for your pet?
If yes, you're most likely a "pet parent." If you answered "yes" to all three, it's also a good bet you are a millennial. The group born 1981-1996 is the biggest segment — 35% — of pet owners, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.
They found two key results: 67% of millennial pet owners "consider their pet part of the family and refer to them as 'my fur baby.'" Sixty-eight percent would take a leave from work to care for a new pet if a leave was offered. And they're not only expending time and TLC — they're spending serious money. Millennial dog owners spend approximately $1,285 a year, creating a $67 billion market. Millennial cat owners dish out about $915 annually. Overall, a $33.5 billion market.Those strollers, clothes, pet spas, and don't forget the specialty foods, can lead to a bill longer than a CVS receipt.
A sick pet can drive up the cost even higher. "Human babies," not surprisingly, cost a lot more. The approximate annual total: $12,980. Obviously, illness can make an exorbitant difference here, too.
Money could be one reason millennials are choosing pets over kids. They have experienced a deep recession, plus two-thirds of millennials have student debt of at least $10,000. Freedom is another factor; dogs and cats can hang out at home while their parents work. Then there's going out to dinner or taking a spontaneous weekend trip. Rover to the rescue. Pets also give young couples a chance to test-drive parenting.
Caring for a dog or cat is a shared responsibility — feeding it, nursing it when it’s sick — but still, it's a sizable step below keeping a human baby alive.
It is worth noting that all of this is taking place at the same time birth rates in the U.S. are dropping — and have been for years. This trend also can be seen as part of the continuing evolution of the American family. In fact, there is a term for it: interspecies families. Pet parents start to make sense in a culture with delayed marriage, falling birth rates, extended young adulthood and don't you ever forget, #dogsofinstagram.