2020 wasn’t the best year for us humans, but its time has come for cats. Eventually, the kind that I have called “Rodney Dangerfield of Pets” (because they don’t get respect) changes course a lot.
And millennials are leading this charge. Adoption and foster care numbers have risen. Old myths about cats are being shattered. You are in what a marketer might call “rebranding”.
It’s a dog world
In 2008 I was invited to dinner by Dan Kramer, then product manager at Pfizer Animal Health (now Zoetis), and publicist Lea-Ann Germinder. Dan noted that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s new source book and other data he discovered indicated that cats were under-medicated, saw veterinarians far less than dogs, and cat owners were less willing to spend as much money as dog owners to spend on care. Cats were more likely to be given to animal shelters and, if lost, less likely to be found than dogs. The percentage of cats microchipped was tiny. In fact, when a cat got out some people didn’t bother looking. After all, the prevailing idea among too many was, “It’s just a cat.” We were pretty much a canine company.
In truth, cats have enjoyed the title of man’s best friend for several decades, just looking at the numbers for the most populous pet. Little did Dan realize that then (and still do) there were more pet cats than dogs in the United States. Although cats were the most popular, they had an image problem. Cats have often been disregarded, misunderstood, and generally didn’t seem to have the same intense bond that we have with dogs.
Dan asked me what I would do about the problem. I said, “We need everyone who comes on the same page to improve the status of cats. These include academics, feline vets, general practitioners, national animal welfare organizations, animal shelter professionals, cat health study nonprofit funders (Winn Feline Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation), and veterinary behaviorists (because cat behavior has been so misunderstood) as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners and American Animal Hospital Association. Neither of these groups alone can accomplish what we can do together. “
Make a change
About a week later Dan called me and said, “I’ll put my money where your mouth is.” And so he did it. A who’s who of the cat world attended a summit in California – and as a result of that meeting, the nonprofit CATalyst Council (catalystcouncil.org) was born.
Indeed, this group has been a catalyst for change. Meanwhile, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) introduced cat-friendly veterinary practices. So many vets were taught mainly about dogs in veterinary school; Cats were marginalized. AAFP said “Not anymore.” The Cat Friendly Practice program helped train veterinary teams to focus on cat grooming. Cat veterinarians were no longer a novelty. Today there are over 1,200 cat-friendly practices; 98% of the practices are satisfied with the program, 90% state that the cat grooming has improved. And 78% have received positive feedback from cat parents. (Survey results 2019 cat-friendly practice at catvets.com)
In 2016, Fear Free was launched (angstfreepets.com), an initiative to combat the emotional health of pets in homes and veterinary clinics. While many species will benefit from this transformation program, it can be argued that cats have gained the most from the program in minimizing the true trauma of cats visiting a veterinarian. Individual vets and technicians can be certified as fear-free, as can entire practices. In this case, 91% of these practices believe their image is more positive and 98% have found a benefit for patient care.
Millennials who care
Both Cat Friendly Practices and Fear Free focus on emotional wellbeing, and it turns out that Millennials do too. Millennials (the generation born between 1981 and 1996) care more than any other generation about the emotional health of cats.
According to a study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI; habri.org) from 2016:
- 77% of millennials find their vet cheaper when discussing the health benefits of human-animal bonding.
- 74% of Millennials are more likely to visit their vet when discussing the health benefits of human-animal bonding.
- 25% of Millennials speak to their vets about the health benefits of owning pets.
It’s true, millennials love their cats. Do you want evidence? They love their cats even more than their electronic devices. And they use these very same devices to post pictures and videos of cats. As a result, cats are ruling the World Wide Web.
On Instagram, some very cool cats have up to millions of followers. The Instagram cats, sometimes referred to as “influencers,” can appear in person and some even sell prey. Most of these cool cats can thank millennial pet parents for starting their online careers and millennial fans for all of the episodes that ensure their star status.
Nothing says millennials and cats like cat cafes. There are nearly 120 cat cafes, according to Meowaround.com, with most major cities having more than one. In 2008 there was zero in the United States.
Most cats in US cafes are adoptable. Speaking of which, even before adoptions skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic, adoptions to cats were increasing and the corresponding number of cats in shelters was decreasing. About 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year, according to the ASPCA, and it’s an even split – 1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats.
Better care for cats
Millennial interest in cats extends beyond imaginative cat yoga and cat movie events presented in cat cafes. They are serious about myth diversion and lead the indictment against deciphering it. Many agree that after New York’s nationwide ban in 2019, other states would have followed suit if the pandemic hadn’t been deflected by legislation.
To better understand cat behavior, books like Decoding Your Cat, written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, sell well, not only because millennials seek the truth of cats, but also because the authors are trusted sources are.
Letting cats be cats is a craze millennials have first embraced. As a result, the number of cat food puzzles and games available to buy in pet stores and online is exponentially higher than it was a few years ago.
With more cats indoors than ever (around 75%), enriching the environment is now the focus. The TV personality Jackson Galaxy even gave it a name – a catification. Even domestic cats are increasingly having their own secure outdoor environments known as catios.
When I was training a cat to play the piano, people joked, “Why would you?” Now, cat parents routinely train cats to walk on leashes and harnesses, or take cats for walks in strollers. Today, cat parents want to socialize and even train kittens. YouTube is full of videos of cats playing musical instruments and doing silly pet tricks. Unless, of course, it’s not as stupid or dumber as dogs doing tricks. Gone are the days when cats were viewed as boring, aloof, and lazy Garfield types.
Despite all of this, cats refuse to put all of their cards on the table – as some feline secrets and mystics remain.