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Amidst the pandemic pets are our friends with all benefits

A recent survey by the University of York and the University of Lincoln stated that sharing a home with a pet appeared to act as a buffer against psychological stress during lockdown.
Nov 22, 2020 / 09:57 AM IST

When I last checked, the number of tweeples sharing pictures of their pets (fondly referred to as babies) outnumbered by 10:1 that of their children (not too fondly referred to as pests). Call it the magic of work and stay from home, pets never had it so good.

Even before the pandemic struck, pet ownership in India had been steadily going up, with pet food sales growing at 13-15 percent annually. The pandemic has accelerated the process. Which is great news for companies such as Mars Pet Nutrition, the runaway leader with a 70 percent share in the Indian pet food market as well others such as Indian Broiler Group, Stylam Sydney, Nestlé and Himalaya Drug Company.

As COVID-19 forced people indoors, it led to an outpouring of love for pets of all kinds. Within that vast universe dogs are way ahead on the popularity list and I can now confidently say that I have seen every major dog/doggo/doggie breed known to mankind.

German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Spitz, Pugs, Beagles, Boxers, Great Danes, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, I have seen them all, proudly displayed across timelines on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even WhatsApp. My personal favourites are the Beagles and the Boxers who for some reason look happiest in their photographs, but like they say there’s a dog for everyone.

Sadly, my education on cat kinds is nowhere near as exhaustive. Blame that on cognitive bias or even algos which keep throwing up mostly dog pics. Only occasionally has a Himalayan or Spotted cat walked imperiously across my scroll. Perhaps they are shy creatures or consider it beneath their dignity to pose for a picture. Whatever the reason, the dog is the reigning king of household pets. Indeed, as per Euromonitor numbers, the Rs 2,284 crore pet food category in India is lorded over by dog food, which accounts for 85 percent of the number.

This despite research showing that cats require less training as compared to dogs, and are capable of spending more time alone. As a consequence, the total cost of owning cats (TCOC) is lower than that for dogs.

But dogs it is for most Indians in the face of the raging pandemic. As they huddle together at home, the dog is truly a family's best friend, keeping members from ripping each other's guts out. Marital discords, charges of favouritism, simmering sibling discontent, there’s little our furry friends haven’t been called upon to resolve. And how well they have adjudicated with a woof here and a wag there.

Indians aren’t alone in this. In the United States, according to Nielsen Global Connect data, pet food retail sales have not yet returned to the level they had reached before the COVID-19 pandemic. But that's because in March, sales accelerated faster than ever as pet owners stocked up.

No such problems for the Chinese who have enjoyed their freedom from COVID-19 to go batty on their pets leading to booming sales of pet products. Here, since I don’t have too many people from that country on my friends list, I will go by the always reliable China Daily, which wrote last week, about how Beijing-based Liu Yang, owner of two cats and a dog, prepared for Singles Day: "Liu began to prepare a shopping checklist well in advance, which included six bags of 5.4-kilogram Orijen's Six Fish, a cat food product featuring a protein-rich diet that costs around 550 yuan ($83) for each bag after discount, 20 cans of canned cat food costing some 200 yuan in total plus nutrition bars, hairball remedy products, toys, pest repellent products and several categories of dog products. Liu said the list set her back about 7,000 yuan, which represents a month's salary for her."

Liu isn’t alone. Rising affluence and increasing loneliness as people leave home for work and increasingly stay alone, has led to the country emerging as one of the largest markets for pet products.

What explains this need for pets? A recent survey by the University of York and the University of Lincoln stated that sharing a home with a pet appeared to act as a buffer against psychological stress during lockdown. Significantly, the study also concluded that the strength of the human-animal bond did not differ significantly between species with the most common pets being cats and dogs followed by small mammals and fish.

How about a Spotted Genet or even a Stag Beetle then?

Sundeep Khanna is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

 
Sundeep Khanna
first published: Nov 22, 2020 09:57 am

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