Pandemic-fueled inflation might be gradually cooling, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince the millions of U.S. pet owners.
Americans paid 15% more for pet food in February than they did a year ago, according to the consumer price index. That’s more than 5 percentage points higher than what we paid for our groceries and double the rate for everything else we bought.
The future, though, may be less daunting for pet owners. More on that later.
“The prices have risen incredibly since the pandemic. It’s ridiculous,” said Stefan Zimmers of Arlington, Virginia. “The problem is you love your pet, so you’re going buy it.”
The Zimmers, who adopted their dog Maple in May 2020, were among the 1 in 5 households that adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
An ASPCA-Ipsos Omnibus poll estimated in May 2021 that families kept 90% of the dogs they adopted and 85% of cats they adopted during the height of the pandemic. As those pets – and their appetites – have grown, so have pet food prices.
How pet food prices compare to other grocery prices
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In 2022, more than 110 million U.S. households spent an average of $680 on pet products – an 11% rise over 2021. But NielsenIQ attributes the increase in spending largely to inflation, considering retailers sold fewer pet products last year.
The Zimmers’ dog Maple is keen on one of the most expensive dog food brands on the market, and it’s only become more expensive in recent months. Zimmers said they’ve tried a variety of lower-cost options, but none really worked. Maple even staged a minor hunger strike that ultimately got her favorite brand reinstated.
Other pets appear to be a little more accommodating to their families’ budgets.
A September survey by the American Pet Product Association found that 27% of Americans had tried lower-cost pet food options. Still, two-thirds of those surveyed said they would stick to premium products for their pets – even if prices continued to rise.
A March 2023 survey conducted by Pollfish for Rover, emphasized just how committed we are to taking care of our pets.
What pet owners say they would give up instead of their pets
Some relief may be in the offing for pet owners and the $47 billion dog and cat food industry.
February’s producer price index showed wholesale cat and dog food prices were nearly unchanged from January. On an annual basis, prices still rose 12% in February, but that was down from a 14% increase in January.
Maybe more importantly: Many of the products that make up pet food have fallen in the past three months and could ripple through to store shelves.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks eight of the products used in manufacturing and packaging dog and cat food. Since November, six of those components have declined by at least 2%.
How prices have changed for components of dog and cat food
Still in coming weeks, pet owners like the Zimmers should expect to brace themselves as they walk into their local pet supply stores.
“It’s one of those things where you just suffer through it,” Zimmers said. “Your pets are part of your family, and you see the price and cringe a little bit and then you pay it and love on her anyway.”