Pet care is booming for Minnesota businesses as spending hits record highs

When Dee Kauffman discovered that her black Lab, Libby, was struggling with early-onset arthritis, she turned to a remedy she relies on herself – massage.

Heidi Hesse of Sound Hound Canine Massage in Minneapolis visits Kauffman’s Woodbury home every few weeks to work on Libby.

“She loves it,” Kauffman said. “You can tell when Heidi hits a trigger point. Libby might stand up and shake out her fur, then sit back down. Heidi is great at working on those sore and tender spots.”

The cost: $90 plus mileage per visit.

“This is a priority for our family,” said Kauffman, a parent whose husband is a lawyer. “Some people have other hobbies that they prioritize. For us, they are our pets.”

According to the American Pet Products Association, spending on pets has hit record levels, surpassing $100 billion for the first time in 2020. Preliminary data for 2021 shows a 10% increase, said Andrew Darmohraj, the federation’s chief operating officer.

Even before the pandemic fueled demand for pet products and services, the role of the household dog or cat has evolved into that of the spoiled youngest child or cherished companion.

“From what I’m seeing on a day-to-day basis, that’s definitely the trend for the last 10 years,” said Dr. Jose Arce, President of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. “Younger couples have more pets and fewer children.”

The 2021 Pet Products Group survey found that 70% of US households own a pet, or 90.5 million households. In 1988, the first year of the survey, 56% of US households owned a pet.

Pope Francis provoked some controversy last month when he lamented that some couples are choosing to have pets over raising children. He warned of falling birth rates in many countries and encouraged people to “take the risk of welcoming children”.

Amanda Esler, manager of pet products for Bone Marché, Lunds & Byerly’s pet division and store in St. Louis Park, sees buying habits reflecting how the role of a family pet has evolved, with sales increasing every year.

“They do for their pet what they would do for their children or any other family member,” she said.

One driver of sales growth is the “premiumization and humanization of pets,” Darmohraj said. “People want to buy things for their pets that are of very high quality or something that is considered decent,” he said. “Only the best for me and only the best for my pet.”

Teef, a biotechnology company focused on dental hygiene for pets and humans, is responding to this demand. The Minneapolis-based company manufactures a soluble daily dietary supplement developed by microbiologist Emily Stein that is placed in a dog bowl daily to help dogs hydrate themselves for better oral hygiene. A mint-shaped human companion product is used by astronauts on the International Space Station.

“The good news is that regardless of economic conditions, the pet industry is pretty resilient,” said Lindsey Campbell, business development manager and co-founder and co-founder of Teef. “More and more people are treating their pets like children. They are willing to make some sacrifices so their dogs can have a happy life.”

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. launched her own pet food brand, Kindfull wet and dry food and treats, last September.

Golden Valley-based General Mills last year bought a $1.2 billion line of pet treats from Tyson Foods, including brands like Nudges, Top Chews and True Chews. The company re-entered the pet food market for the first time in 50 years in 2018 when it bought Blue Buffalo Pet Products Co. for $8 billion.

Meanwhile, pet care for small businesses is booming in the Twin Cities. A staff shortage has secured appointments at the vet. Dog trainers are busy working on puppies’ social skills when a new child joins an older pooch in the home, or easing fears of pets when an owner returns to the office. Nursing appointments are also harder to get.

“Before COVID, January or February, you could get a same-day grooming appointment,” Keith Miller, owner of the four Bubbly Paws in the Twin Cities, said last month. “Now you probably won’t get an appointment until the end of February.”

This is especially true with the increasing popularity of Doodles, Poodle mixed breed dogs, with their easy-care coats.

“It’s the trendy designer dog right now,” Miller said. “They just take longer to care for.”

The average cost to care for a Doodle is $90 to $110, and he recommends visits every six to eight weeks.

Miller has added snow groomers to its locations to meet growing demand and is working on a national franchise model. His sales last year topped 2019 levels after a small dip in 2020, which he attributes to a seven-week pandemic shutdown.

He raised prices last month, as he does every January, but said he wasn’t concerned about customers’ ability to absorb them.

“You’re home more with your dog, so you have your people who work from home and think, ‘Oh my god, my dog ​​really stinks,’” he said.

Nicole Boe, owner of Dog Day Getaway in Apple Valley, said customers tend to have higher incomes and can absorb rising prices.

“We don’t necessarily see the goal [from inflation] like other companies do because the people who use us are luckier than others,” she said.

The dog daycare business, which has been in existence since 2004, had its best year ever last year, Boe said. The company relies on the federal government’s pandemic assistance to get through 2020, she said.

Dog trainer Anne Hendrickson said she was overwhelmed by demand at the start of the pandemic. Clients hire her to teach puppies how to behave around older family dogs and at the dog park.

“I didn’t see it explode like that. I wasn’t expecting to work seven days a week,” Hendrickson said.

For Sound Hound Canine Massage’s Hesse, business temporarily ground to a halt during the first shutdown of the pandemic, but quickly recovered.

She is often hired when dog owners notice that their pets are having trouble climbing stairs or overcoming injuries. Hesse is state certified in canine acupuncture and massage and does most of her business through word of mouth.

“I think it legitimizes it because a lot of people say, ‘You can pet dogs for a living,’ and there’s a lot more to it than that,” she said.

Kauffman said she sees the difference massage is making to her lab. Libby coped easily with the massage after watching Buddy, the family’s late golden retriever, get it. The family believed that Buddy’s quality of life and longevity was improving, so they followed the same path for Libby as she got older.

“My husband and I are both people who would benefit from deep tissue massage on a regular basis. We know that as human beings there are health benefits to us,” Kauffman said. “Being able to provide that for Libby is something we’re willing to do.”

About Clayton Arredondo

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