How fur babies have become cherished family members in SA’s middle-class

Picture: Unsplash

Picture: Unsplash

Published Jul 3, 2023


In South Africa, the pet industry is thriving, with estimates valuing it at over R8 billion per year.

Which is significant considering that the total spent on corporate social investment programs in the country last year was only around R11 billion. So, who are the people driving this industry, and what are they spending their money on?

While pet food remains a major segment of the market, there are several other fast-growing sectors contributing to its expansion.

These include veterinary care and medications, nutritional supplements and treats, grooming and boarding services, pet toys, beds, and a wide range of accessories.

Additionally, there is a growing demand for pet-friendly travel options, accommodation, activities, and recreational spaces as consumer attitudes towards pets continue to evolve.

Brandon de Kock, director of storytelling for WhyFive Insights, attributes this shift to pets occupying more esteemed positions and roles within middle-class family life.

In South Africa, dogs, in particular, have traditionally played a significant role beyond companionship. They serve as loyal protectors and even life-saving companions, which has fostered a deeper connection between pets and their owners.

Cats, too, are no longer seen solely as amusing mouse-killers, but rather as cherished members of the family.

Cats are no longer seen solely as amusing mouse-killers but rather as cherished members of the family. Picture: Unsplash

‘’To begin with, in South Africa, the traditional role of dogs in particular goes further than just companionship and a burglar alarm, you ‘best friend’ can save your life and allow you to go for a walk around the block by yourself.

“So our unique circumstances are fertile ground for a far more intimate relationship. As a result, the dog is no longer left out in the cold or tied up to bark in the backyard, and the cat isn’t just an amusing mouse-killer that comes and goes.

“Families now have ‘fur babies’ and it’s caused the pet market to boom in a range of ways,” said de Kock.

The annual BrandMapp survey by WhyFive provides valuable insights into the lifestyles, perceptions, and consumer behaviours of South Africa’s middle-to top-income consumers.

Pets play a crucial role in this research, revealing that 45% of all adults in the country are pet owners, with 36% owning dogs. This means that approximately 2 million middle-class South African homes have at least one dog, if not more.

Consequently, this has created a thriving market for pet-related products and services, ranging from refuse bins for dog waste to designer leashes and gourmet pet food.

When examining the demographics of pet ownership, some interesting trends emerge. For instance, there is a correlation between age and pet ownership, with older individuals being more likely to have pets.

However, pet ownership drops off after retirement age. Additionally, there is a skew towards pet ownership among the white population, especially when it comes to exotic pets. Nevertheless, these niche categories represent a small portion of the overall pet market, which is predominantly dominated by dogs and cats.

Dogs are the most popular pets among South Africans, with 81% of all pet owners (equivalent to 36% of all adults) having dogs. In contrast, only 27% (12% of the total) own cats.

Surprisingly, while there is some overlap, with 57% of cat owners also having dogs, only 19% of dog owners also have cats. This suggests that cat lovers tend to have a broader affinity for animals, whereas dog owners are primarily focused on their canine companions.

Contrary to common stereotypes, the BrandMapp data debunks the notion that pet owners are lonely or eccentric individuals. In reality, people who live alone are the least likely to own pets, while family life and pet ownership tend to go hand in hand.

In fact, the more children a household has, the more likely they are to have a dog.

While it may seem that pet ownership is primarily reserved for the wealthiest individuals due to rising costs of food and healthcare, evidence suggest otherwise.

While there is a trend indicating that wealthier households are more likely to own dogs, there is a substantial portion of mid-income earners who are willing to stretch their budgets to accommodate pet ownership.

“There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld skit,” concludes de Kock, “where he says ‘If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they’re gonna think the dogs are the leaders.

“If you see two life forms, one of them is making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume was in charge?’ It’s a joke, but there’s a hidden truth.

“The landscape has shifted, people are willing to spend a lot more on pets than our ancestors would ever believe possible, and it’s hard to see it going backwards.”

Related Topics: