Rise of pet owners reflects growing incomes in developing world

Steve Johnson, August 27, 2017

Pet ownership has risen dramatically in developing countries this millennium, even as it has remained little changed in the developed world.

The trend is indicative of a growing middle class in emerging markets, as well as changing lifestyles and attitudes towards cats and dogs.

Since 2003, the number of pet dogs in emerging market countries has jumped 51 per cent to 243m. It has inched up just 5 per cent to 137m in the developed world, according to figures from Euromonitor, a research group, based on data from 54 countries.

Similarly, cat ownership in emerging markets has leapt 49 per cent to 126m, far outstripping the 5 per cent rise to 155m in wealthy countries.

“In poor countries people are more focused on a chicken that will lay eggs or a pig that might eat their waste. It’s only as they get a little bit richer that that changes. Pets might be seen as a relative luxury purchase,” said Charles Robertson, chief economist of Renaissance Capital, an emerging market-focused investment bank.

Paula Flores, head of pet care research at Euromonitor, said: “the rise in disposable income [particularly in Asia] has been significant over the last 10 years. That is pretty important. If people are struggling to buy food for themselves, they are not going to buy it for a pet”.

Ms. Flores also cited the importance of lifestyle changes in much of the developing world, with people typically having children later, or not at all, and viewing a pet as a child substitute. There has also been a rise in people living alone and seeking companionship.

This has coincided with a change in mentality in many cities, with cats and dogs increasingly seen as indoor pets, rather than animals that belongs in a yard.

“There are more places that are pet-friendly. Cat and dog cafés have been expanding exponentially across Asia,” said Ms Flores, who added that pet owners in emerging countries were typically younger than those in the west, so the impact of social media in encouraging ownership was also much greater.

The west still accounts for the bulk of spending, with pet owners in the US expected to lavish $46bn on their companions this year. That is more than two-and-a-half times the gross domestic product of North Korea, and larger than the economies of 122 countries, according to the UN.

However, rising pet ownership in emerging markets is creating new opportunities for purveyors of pet food and related goods and services.

Since 2012, annual spending on pet care in Asia Pacific ex-Japan has risen 68 per cent to $6.5bn, according to Euromonitor, with rises of 20-30 per cent in the Middle East and Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America. In contrast, spending has risen just 12 per cent in North America, 8 per cent in western Europe and 1 per cent in Japan.

China alone has seen annual spending rise by $1.3bn since 2012, with Brazil, Russia and Mexico all seeing growth of above $500m, with only the US market expanding faster.

Despite 25.9m households owning dogs, bettered only by the US and Brazil, China’s adoption of furry pets has lagged behind much of the rest of Asia, however.

Just 5.6 per cent of households in China own a dog and 1.5 per cent, a cat. This is little more than the rock-bottom rates of 5.5 per cent and 0.5 per cent, respectively, in far poorer India, which is catching up fast. India’s canine-owning population has expanded by120 per cent since 2003, with dogs becoming a middle-class status symbol. The number of households with a cat has risen 67 per cent over the same period.

Both cat and dog ownership has also risen rapidly in Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand, while the number of South Korean households keeping a cat has leapt 617 per cent, admittedly from a low base.

China has by far the largest populations of pet fish and birds, though, even if the latter has fallen by 5m to 73m since 2011, as outbreaks of avian flu have dented their popularity.

Elsewhere pet-mad Romania has overtaken New Zealand as the world’s most cat-centric country, with 47 per cent of households owning at least one moggie.

Some 46 per cent of Romanians also have a dog, a rate bettered only by Chile and Brazil, with Latin Americans in general leading the pack.

Levels of dog ownership remain very low in Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey, where they are often regarded as unclean. Euromonitor said this religious taboo appeared to be weakening, however, as younger people become more exposed to western culture, with Indonesia witnessing a 150 per cent rise in its canine population since 2003.