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December 15, 2020

Brakke finds pet owners settle in for long haul during pandemic

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Illustration: A masked human walking a dogThe COVID-19 pandemic has impacted pet owners in various ways but has had little or no negative impact overall on pet care so far, according to a study by Brakke Consulting.

Brakke conducted the “COVID-19: Impact on Pet Care” study in three waves during early May, mid-June, and late July to early August, surveying a national random sample of 1,000 pet owners for each wave. John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke, presented key study results on Oct. 28 during the virtual AVMA Economic Summit.

About 19% of pet owners reported being unemployed in May, decreasing to 12% in June and 11% at the end of July. Just over a quarter of respondents in each wave reported reduced income as a result of the pandemic.

Expectations for a near-term recovery waned over the three waves of the study. In May, 39% of pet owners anticipated returning to pre-pandemic income for their household within three to six months, decreasing to 30% in June and 25% at the end of July.

“With the economic hardship, we wondered, though, whether this was having a negative impact on spending,” Volk said. “Certainly, there was some economizing, but interestingly there were more pet owners that said their pet spending had increased than said it had decreased.”

At the end of July, 23% of respondents reported spending more on their pets since the beginning of the pandemic, while 14% reported spending less. About 19% said they purchased pet food that was less expensive, and 12% said they purchased pet medications that were less expensive.

More than half of flea, tick, and heartworm medications were purchased online. The percentage ordered from an online retailer increased from 30% to 33% to 35% over the three waves of the study, while the percentage ordered through a veterinary clinic’s online store decreased from 20% to 18% to 15%.

Most pet food continued to be purchased at brick-and-mortar stores, with about half purchased at retail stores and 22% purchased at pet stores across all three waves of the study.

In May, 39% of pet owners had canceled veterinary appointments because of the pandemic, decreasing to 34% in June and 29% at the end of July. Not everyone who wanted an appointment got one, though. At the end of July, 32% of pet owners had tried to schedule an appointment within the last month, and 23% of them were not able to do so at the time they wanted. Of those, 48% said no appointments were available, 34% said the clinic was only seeing emergencies, and 16% said the clinic was closed.

“So this would indicate to us that there was some reduction in supply of veterinary services during the pandemic, and we’ve certainly heard of those clinics that are open being extremely busy and really booked to the wall with appointments,” Volk said.

The format for appointments changed. About 56% of pet owners said they had curbside appointments, meaning they dropped off the pet and waited or came back later. About 30% of appointments were face-to-face. About 12% of appointments were by telemedicine.

The percentage of pet owners who rated their satisfaction as 4 out of 4 was 89% for a conventional visit, 63% for a drop-off visit, 53% for a phone call, and 38% for a video chat.