Every morning, my alarm goes off at 5:55 am. And 6:00 am. And 6:05 am. Each alarm has a specific purpose - purposes that my cat has learned for himself as well.
At the first alarm, I turn over and turn it off. Chewie knows this isn't the real alarm, and doesn't stir from his position right next to me. At the second alarm, however, he knows this is his time to start moving. He looks up and meows at me, then places his front paws on me, purring as he waits the next five minutes and enjoys the daily morning petting session.
At 6:05, he meows again and gets up, jumping to the ground and waits for me to follow, knowing this is when it's actually time for me to get up.
On the weekends, this system takes a break, and by 6:20 he's often confused, trying to wake me up for what should have been my alarm. I wave him away and he goes into the kitchen, opening up kitchen cabinets to wake me up until, a couple hours later, I finally do.
Does Chewie actually know my sleep schedule and care if I'm late to hit the gym that morning? Does he get concerned when I don't wake up at 6 am on the weekends and do everything he can to wake me up? Maybe, but most likely not.
Humans personify their pets' actions every day. When a dog gets into something they shouldn't have and get a look of guilt on their face, we assume it's just that: guilt. When cats wake us up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, we assume they're concerned about us sleeping in too late (or just want food, which is much more likely).
Although pets aren't human, we project human emotions to their facial expressions, body language, and actions on a daily basis. More often than not, this personification doesn't hurt anyone, and can actually encourage the human-animal bond more than ever.
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) conducts research projects on the effects of the human-animal interaction on human health. This includes "social skills outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder; the physical and developmental health of children living with family pets; and the mental health and well-being of seniors living alone." In 2017, the organization hit $2 million in funding toward their research projects.
The bond we form with our pets is interesting enough on its own. But what happens when pet product manufacturers begin producing products that push this bond to the next level?
In the last few years, companies have been doing just that. These are some of the products that are having the biggest impact on our bonds with our pets in recent years and moving forward.
Premium Pet Foods
In case you haven't noticed, premium pet food is having a moment right now. You could supposedly say that "premium" is the new "grain-free" - with pet food labels reading everything from "natural" and "holistic" to straight-up saying "premium."
One reason they've become so popular is that pet owners are willing to pay for it. In fact, many consumers (mostly millennials) will admit that their pets, in general, often eat better than they do.
According to Pet Food Industry, "Pets being part of the family is as familiar and ingrained for millennials—something they seldom think about, if ever—as are mobile phones, social media and indeed the air they breathe. It’s second nature for them to feed their pets well and spend a decent amount of money to do so."
Why is this the case? Why do millennials want to spend more on their pets, even going as far as having them eat better food than even themselves? It may have to do with the humanization of pets; the idea that pets are a part of the family, and as such, they deserve to have the best.
According to Sandy Robins, a pet lifestyle author and consultant, "the human-animal bond is the number one ingredient in pet food because feeding a furry family member is no different to connecting with human family members over food,” she said. “It’s all about love and wanting what is best for them.”
Moving forward, it will be interesting to watch how the premiumization of pet food develops and, along with it, the politics of pricing and label transparency in the growing pet food category.
Pet Food Technology
Strengthening bonds with pets using pet food doesn't just have to be about the food itself; it also includes the way we feed them.
Pet technology is one category of pet products that is only continuing to grow as we move forward. Products including smart bowls, video cameras, and microchip readers are changing the game with how we interact with our pets in and outside of feeding times.
These days, pet owners on business trips can simply turn on a camera in their home to see how their pet is doing. Some cameras even allow the owner to toss their pet a treat or play with a laser light (for cat owners, of course) from just a flick of the finger on their touchscreen.
With this technology, pet parents can not only monitor their furry friends at home whenever they want, but they can also hire a dog sitter, re-order their food with the click of a button when stocks run low, and interact with their pets in an entirely new way.
Pet Containment and Travel
At each pet trade show, it seems that there are more and more products designed to humanize the experience we have our pets on a daily basis. How many booths have you walked by with rows of pet strollers lined up, each looking like a real stroller for human use?
Pet strollers, harnesses for cats, and improved pet products for travel are increasing the ways humans are able to bring their pets with them on the go, like a child, rather than simply leaving them at home.
In the pet containment category (kennels, crates, etc.), pet owners are looking for high-quality pieces of furniture that double as a way to secure their pets. Dogs are no longer being put in dog houses inside; instead being invited to sleep in bed with the pet owner(s).
These products are all designed to emphasize one thing: incorporating pets into the family and improving the human-animal bond we have with them. Instead of herding sheep in the morning, dogs are invited to join the owners in the kitchen for a cup of coffee before work. They jump from "their spot" on the bed and prance happily into the kitchen behind their human, tail wagging ferociously behind them.
Although not necessarily a pet product, social media has also had a huge impact on the human-animal bond we have with our pets, and is worth mentioning.
Not only do pets make a regular appearance on social media, but many even have their own profiles and usernames. On top of that, there's an entire industry of social media famous pets (Grumpy Cat being one of the most obvious) whose owners' lifestyle is completely attributed to their furry friend.
As more and more consumers use social media as platforms for their pets, it leaves open an opportunity for pet businesses to get involved as well. It's important for pet retailers and manufacturers alike to be present on the platforms that grant them exposure to the right kind of audiences (i.e. Instagram for millennials and Facebook for gen x and boomers).
Pet ownership is essential for human health and happiness. As we continue to realize this, we will see products that encourage the human-animal bond continue to grow in popularity.
Pet retailers must do what they can to not only stock the right pet products for this realization, but also educate on and encourage the bond with their customers. Manufacturers, on the other hand, must do their part to understand how their products have an effect on the way we bond with our pets.
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