What You Need to Know About the Millennial Trend of Pets as Starter Children

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

The younger cohort of the Millennial generation may not yet have said their I dos or closed on a home, but there is one milestone they are reaching at a vastly greater rate than the rest of the population: pet ownership. Yet, these aren’t just “pets” to Millennials; these are meaningful companions that hold a special place in their hearts – and their wallets. In fact, for marketers hoping to identify with Millennial pet owners, it’s time to think of them as what Millennials consider them to be: starter children.

A recent study by Gale, a business solutions agency, found that nearly half (44%) of Millennials view their pets as practice for the day they have their own kids, with 21 percent claiming this was the main reason they became a pet owner. Overall, 75 percent of this generation own a dog and 51 percent own a cat, according to Mintel. This is a significant jump when compared to the rest of the population, of which half own a dog and only 35 percent own a cat. As such, it makes sense that Millennials are spending the most in this vertical.

“Many of our Millennial customers are young professionals who seem to be waiting to have children but have pets on which they spend their disposable income,” Heather Blum, co-owner of pet supply store Petagogy, told Pet Business Magazine. Blum also shared that at least half of her customers are members of the Millennial generation.

With a 25 percent increase in sales between 2010 and 2016, this approximately $69 billion industry will only continue to see an increase in revenue as time passes. Particularly as a major segment of Millennials are considering making their starter children their only children, with 44 percent unsure if they want to start a family of their own.

“Pets are becoming a replacement for children,” said Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University, in an interview with The Washington Post.


“They’re less expensive,” she explains. “You can get one even if you’re not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship.”

So, if you’re a pet brand aiming to reach these important consumers, here’s what you need to know:

Quality Wins

Considering Millennials view their pets as children, they want what’s best for them. This means quality wins out over price nearly every time. Millennial pet parents are more interested in natural, organic, hypoallergenic, grain-free and BPA-free products than the average pet owner, and there has been a recent uptick in the trends of freeze-dried and raw foods. Wakefield Research found in a recent study that 86 percent of Millennials feel that natural food is vital for their pet. It’s important that brands are transparent about where their products come from and how they are made. Sharing authentic interest and concern into the health and well-being of a Millennial’s pet is also highly valued by these consumers.

Social Resonates

Digitally native. Hyper-connected. Always-on. These are all terms used to describe the Millennial generation, so it shouldn’t be surprising that social is the preferred landscape for them to connect with other pet owners – and with pet brands. Millennial pet parents share a photo of their pet, on average, three times per week and 17 percent have separate social accounts under their pet’s name (my Millennial self included). This makes social media key when marketing to these pet owners, as they are spending the majority of their time on such platforms and are already more likely to pay attention to and engage with content related to their pet.

Personalization Differentiates

However, there’s more to reaching Millennial pet parents on social than simply pushing out consistent content. The content must also be personalized. Millennial pet owners are tremendously proud of their fur babies, and they want brands to recognize that – and all of their pet’s qualities. This means brands must take the time to notice and place interest in the wants and needs of various customers to create the most relevant content for them at the right time.

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.