There are some guests during the holidays that people welcome with trepidation. It used to be the in-laws or someone’s new significant other. Increasingly though, it’s a visitor’s pet.
As Americans have elevated pets to human status, they want to bring their (usually) hairy extended family along for the holidays. One in three pet owners say they try to always travel with their animals, according to a new Ipsos survey of 1,003 Americans. On the other hand, one in five owners say they’ll decline an invitation if they can’t bring Max or Bella.
If the “fur baby” misbehaves, 40 percent of survey respondents say they will ask the guests to leave. Not surprisingly, these decisions can add a whole new layer of holiday drama. About 40 percent of owners say traveling with pets sometimes causes conflict with human friends and family members.
From conflict, opportunity
This creates a minefield of etiquette challenges and an opportunity for brands to help, says Kevin Nielsen, a client partner at Ipsos who works with pet care companies. It starts with navigating the invitation and travel accommodations to handling sleeping and eating arrangements for the non-human guest. Now that millennials have eclipsed Baby Boomers as pet owners, they’ve made pets even more equal to humans, according to another Ipsos survey on behalf of the American Pet Products Association.
“There are many variables that affect how owners and hosts handle pet guests,” Nielsen says. “People view pets as another member of the family. In situations where bringing pets along for the holidays is an option, pet owners will do whatever they can to include their furry friends and make the trip as enjoyable as possible.”
Nielsen says that travelling for the holidays can be stressful for both pet owners and their animals. “Pet owners will appreciate brands that offer helpful products, tips and reminders to ease the anxiety,” he says.
A new kind of holiday host gift
With more pets joining in on the festivities, Nielsen says brands and retailers can offer solutions beyond presents and treats. “They can create pet host sales displays or gift baskets with tips for hosting pets and recommended apps for finding local services, like emergency vets,” he says. “They also could include pet-proofing items, furniture covers, scratch-filling pens, stain removers and gift cards for services like yard cleanup and home cleaning for pet hair.”
Even before they tackle the family dynamic, “pet parents” must deal with getting their creatures to the destination. Like some people in recent years, 13 percent of pet owners in the Ipsos poll say they’ve called their pet a support animal in order to get them on a plane. It’s already become a gag for one marketer.
Three in four people say they’ll get a sitter or board their pet if it isn’t welcome. When they do bring their animal, half of owners say they’ll stay in a pet-friendly hotel.
As hosts, people have mixed attitudes about allowing pets as house guests. Nearly two in five say pets can visit any time they like. One quarter agree only to host a pet if it’s pre-arranged. Another quarter say they don’t accept pet visitors. One in five will take in a guest pet in an emergency. When hosts allow pets, a quarter expect the animal to stay outside and a quarter expect to cage or crate the animal.
Holiday hosts need to set rules
Besides being stressful to the pets, bringing them along can be a big imposition on people, especially if they have allergies or phobias, says Hal Herzog, psychology professor at Western Carolina University who writes about people and animals for Psychology Today. “And it puts the host in a difficult position of having to set up the rules,” he says.
Four in five Americans polled say they expect pets and their owners to follow house rules. More than 90 percent of owners are happy to make sure the host is comfortable with having a pet guest. They say they will bring food and supplies, exercise the pet and supervise its behavior. If something goes awry, they also say they will fix or pay for repairs if the pet soils or damages something. Still, Herzog contends that for pets, there’s no place like home.
“If I were to give people advice,” Herzog says, “in most circumstances it’s don’t bring your pet to visit unless it’s somebody that you know really well, they know the animal and you have arrangements for taking care of the pet.”