Animals Treated Like Family So Industry Continues to Grow

ST. LEO, FL – Americans love their fur babies—as well as their feathered friends, leathery lizards, and fascinating fish. A new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute looked at pet ownership and the holidays.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey was fielded nationally online among 1,167 adults from October 11 through October 17, 2018. When all 1,167 answered questions, the margin of error for results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

The polling institute also sampled opinions of 698 residents in Florida, where Saint Leo University is based. The survey was conducted October 16 through October 22, 2018, using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

Three-fifths of Americans polled, 59.4 percent, say they have pets at home.  In Florida, 60.9 percent of poll respondents say they own pets.

Poll respondents also were asked about their holiday spending on pets. The average amount pet owners anticipate spending or have spent on holiday gifts for their pets is $237.37, the Saint Leo poll shows. Among Florida respondents, the average is $233.34. These figures are much higher than when the Saint Leo University Polling Institute last posed the questions.  In 2015, Americans said they would spend $98.97 and Florida respondents said they would spend $121.38 on holiday gifts for their pets.

Dr. Keith Jones, associate professor of marketing at Saint Leo University, said he has followed the pet industry for 10 years and frequently discusses it in the classroom.

“The spenders—they are called ‘pet parents’—are individuals who treat their four-legged friends as if they are actually family members,” Jones said. “As a result, people continue to spend on their pets at holidays in a similar manner as to how they spend on their actual family members.  In fact in 2014, households reported that while they were going to cut back on spending for family members, they were not going to do so for their furry family members. Some even reported they were going to increase their spending. Industry officials are uncertain as to how long this trend will last.”

Saint Leo’s Dr. Rhondda Waddell agreed with Jones. “We as a nation are embracing more than ever our pets as family members,” said Waddell, a professor of social work at Saint Leo University who teaches an interdisciplinary course about therapy and service animals. “Many people have substituted their animals for the choice to have children, and thus they lavish their pets as they normally would their own children.”

The pet industry was not negatively affect by the recession in 2008, Jones noted, and has continued to grow.

“It is estimated that pet spending this year will easily top $86 billion,” he said. “The top three categories in spending are food, veterinary services, and supplies [which includes toys and novelties]. The 45-to-54-year age group makes up about 26 percent of the pet store market followed by the 55-to-64-year group [22.8 percent, based on various pet industry reports].”

Whether pets are replacements for children for empty nesters or those who do not have children, or for those adding pets to families with children, “the most important message to note is that a growing number of households hold their animals in high esteem,” Waddell said. ‘My personal thought is ‘love is love.’ If you want to give to your pets and that makes you happy, more power to you!”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted October 11 through October 17, 2018, among a base of 1,167 respondents, using an online instrument. Politically, the composition of the sample was 24.9 percent Republican, 24.9 percent Democrat, 26.9 percent independent (or unaffiliated); and 8.7 percent from another party. The remaining 14.7 percent indicated they are unsure. The survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, the survey was used to sample opinions of 698 registered likely voters across the state. The survey was conducted October 16 through October 22, 2018, using an online survey instrument. The political composition of the voter base was 35.5 percent Republican, 38.1 percent Democrat, 24.1 percent unaffiliated, and 1 percent from another party. The remaining 1 percent indicated they were unsure. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.