How pawrenting and fur babies have changed pet shopping.
01.09.23 | By Kimberley Killender | opinion
How pawrenting and fur babies have changed pet shopping.
It's all about kibble with a side of caviar.
They say plants are the new pets, pets are the new children, and children are the new super yachts. Which is why more people are choosing not to have kids, but everyone you know seems to own a groodle. As our pet’s—sorry—fur baby’s roles have evolved, so have our shopping habits. Here’s how.
(*Sorry for saying fur baby.)
I can’t be the only one who has been shamed by a vet nurse for daring to name a supermarket brand as my kitten’s preferred food. If you have ever left the vet clutching a $70 bag of chicken flavour kibble in your arms, here are some other options on the market.
Not loving lugging tins of food home every few weeks? There are a tonne of online models making pet food delivery easy. You can go luxe with minimalist, high protein SOSA for cats or friendly and honest Scratch for dogs, or find your preferred brand on the likes of Pet Circle and add it to an auto-delivery.
Fresh meal delivery
We’ve all been guilty of digging a Muscle Chef meal out of the depths of our fridge on a lazy Tuesday night. But now you can do the same with your pet food, with brands like Lyka coming in hot with freshly cooked, nutritionally balanced, snap frozen meals for pups. Because clearly, the modern dog deserves nothing less than a culinary experience that rivals a five-star restaurant.
Home cooked meals
Let’s play a game. We’ll call it “Prep or Pup”, and it’s where you have to guess if the meal is your boyfriend's meal prep, or the meal he’s cooking your dog for dinner.
Poached chicken, brown rice, broccoli, and carrots.
Salmon, potatoes, cauliflower, and peas.
Ground turkey, spinach, zucchini, and pumpkin.
Chicken breast, sweet potato, green beans.
These are all recommended home cooked meals for your dog. Let’s face it, there’s probably a dog out there who is eating better than you. After all, there’s no Large McNugget Meal on that list.
Tailored meal plans
No, really. For pets with intolerances, illnesses, behavioural issues, or who are just plain fussy, there are now businesses that will help create and tailor a meal plan for Fluffy or Fido.
Sticking with the supermarket
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Adding your pet’s food into your grocery shop just makes sense for many. But even pet food aisles have undergone a makeover. It's no longer a simple choice between kibble or canned. It’s now a full aisle of organic, grain-free, raw, and (brace yourself) gluten-free options. Some even offer a Pet Treat bar; a Scoop N Weigh section for dog treats.
With such a huge range of options for giving our pets the best food possible, consumers are prioritising convenience and quality over price where they can. The days of settling for generic pet chow are fading into the past as pet parents increasingly seek out premium, tailor-made nutrition for their furry friends.
Back in the day (cue the sound of my millennial bones creaking), my dog was content with a pile of tennis balls, and my cat considered a humble shoelace the pinnacle of entertainment. Fast forward to the present, and here I am, writing this next to a four-storey cat tower that's practically a skyscraper in feline terms. And let's not even get started on the allegedly "indestructible" rubber bone that basically required a mortgage to purchase.
These lounge rooms full of extravagant pet toys are truly a reflection of our changing lifestyles. With money to burn (because we’re not spending it on children) and as our pets assume roles as beloved companions, emotional support providers, and social media stars, the need to shower them with indulgences becomes a way of showcasing our affection. It's a declaration to the world that we're more than pet owners; we're pet parents, curators of their ultimate happiness. If they deserve the best, why not splurge on that plush unicorn toy or rolling laser point robot?
Treat finders, snuffle mats, Kongs filled with peanut butter. Playtime isn’t enough anymore, we’re brain-training our pets. If only they could do a Sudoku.
Personally, I don’t think my cat, who has figured out how to open the kitchen cupboard and help himself to the butter dish, NEEDS to be smarter. But keeping our pets engaged and active does help prevent destructive tendencies, so we might as well make the process cute, like this Bacon and Egg Pancake snuffle mat. Aww.
Can you believe an old towel used to suffice as a makeshift cushion for your pet? Now, our pets are reclining in memory foam orthopaedic beds, complete with customisable designer feet to match your home aesthetic. That’s not me being dramatic, that’s available on Omlet in 15 different colours and 10 different foot styles.
As pets become more and more ‘human’ in consumers' eyes, they start humanising the needs of their pets. The way we protect our own back health with high quality mattresses, or want an electric blanket in the middle of winter, mirrors how consumers care for their pets now.
Sure, the tried and true plastic litter tray and a hand held scoop does the job. But it’s unsightly, and kind of gross to deal with. Which is why robotic self-cleaning litter trays and litter trays disguised as furniture are hitting shelves and lounge room floors everywhere. From the thousand dollar Litter Robot, to pretty pastel retro-looking numbers, kitty litter has never been more fashionable. Purr.
Even dog poo bags are going through an aesthetic renaissance, with brands like gummi producing beautiful baggies, and accessories for them to be carried in. They’ve even partnered with Melbourne cult fave The Commons for a dog poop bag collaboration. Just like we always dreamed.
These ‘gross bits’ are an unavoidable part of pet ownership, with a level of stigma around neglecting them. No one wants to be the person caught not picking up after their dog at the park, after all. Brands building on this by providing ways to make the process more aesthetic are tapping into the performative nature of ‘pawrents’. Sure, they may not post their poo bags on social media, but they’ll take pride in slinging the lead and cutesy bags over their shoulder at the dog park.
Automatic feeders, water fountains, litter trays that clean themselves: we’re spending big on ways to make pet care more convenient for ourselves, and more aesthetically pleasing.
Rather than spend a little to get something that does the job, we’ll spend more on something that does the job, and looks good doing it. Think fantasy themed cat towers, luxe automatic feeders, and heart shaped food bowls. Again, brands are successfully tapping in to the need to be well presented for others. A cat doesn’t care if their food is in a $2 Kmart bowl, but for the humans who care for them, the $25 novelty bowl is so much cuter to have sitting in your kitchen every day.
2 bed, 2 bath, with a garden for Mr Wigglesworth. When people are buying up, their furever friends are now front of mind. Many people aren’t buying houses with the intention of raising children in them, but for space that lets their pets live their best lives instead. The TikTok trend of Apartment Dogs being released into their First Home Garden is a testament to that. Some people have even started building extravagant dog kennels the size of real homes in their yards, including heating and entertainment for their very lucky pets.
Is accommodating our pets the greatest motivator for home hunters? Not necessarily. But it’s definitely a big consideration for those who currently have pets, or those who want them in the future.
This Mother’s Day, an unexpected flurry of messages flooded my inbox. "Happy Mother's Day, mama! Your babies are so lucky to have you!" chimed one friend, while another playfully urged, "Give your little guys a smooch for me, mummy! Happy Mother's Day!" Then, my partner came home with a Mother’s Day card and a bouquet of flowers.
This all threw me a little, because I don’t have children. Human ones, at least. And I’m not one of the pet owners who refers to myself as a parent. But it didn’t stop others from doing so, and assuming it was a role I identified with.
There has been a definite culture shift around the definition of ‘parenting’. We seem to have transcended the traditional labels of 'baby' and 'pet' to simply 'being that needs me.'
Those well-intentioned messages all came from my friends who have real-life human babies, which indicates there’s some social psychology at play here. You can help maintain connections with friends who are in different life stages than you by equating their golden retriever with your golden child. It maintains a sense of common ground between you. Although they’ll never have to buy your dog an XBox for their bar mitzvah.
Considering he’s told he’s a good boy all day every day, it was no surprise that our dog received the most presents from Santa last Christmas. In fact, there were more pet presents under that twinkling tree than you could shake a chew toy at. In classic Millenial/Gen Z style, we want how cute our pets are and how much we love them to be incredibly visible. With the ease of social media at our fingertips, capturing those endearing moments—whether it's a cat reluctantly sporting reindeer antlers or a dog donning a pumpkin hat for Halloween—has become an art form.
There has also been a growing trend of pet-centric twists on human-style celebrations, like Gotcha Days, Bark Mitzvahs, Birthday Pawties. With the evolution from animal to "fur child" being a reflection of the ever-evolving bond between humans and their furry companions, it’s no surprise we’re making pet-safe birthday cakes and celebrating the day they entered our lives.
With every treat-filled puzzle toy, customised meal plan, and elegantly designed pet accessory, a retail revolution is unfolding—one that's intricately woven with the threads of love and companionship. The shift from pet ownership to "pawrenting" isn't just linguistic; it's a social transformation that's deeply reflected in the choices consumers make. And if a pet raincoat or gourmet dog treat makes someone's day a little brighter, who are we to judge?
After all, in a world that could use a little more warmth and wagging tails, perhaps the evolution from animal to "fur child" is just the feel-good story we need.