Pet humanization, also known scientifically as anthropomorphism, is becoming a common phrase within the pet industry because more and more pet owners are wanting to provide their pets with human-like products or experiences. For example, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 28 percent of dog owners surveyed said they throw birthday parties for their pups.
And it’s more than just birthday parties. Pet owners are looking for humanized products for pets.
“In the past seven years, I started to notice the humanization of pets and that pet owners were seeking higher quality goods and more expensive, high-end accessories,” said Ashley Harris, owner of Bark Fifth Avenue.
Humanizing pets opens doors for many in the pet industry because it stirs different thoughts that lead to the possibility of a new innovative product. Because of this, many retailers and manufacturers are expanding their shelves and drawing inspiration from day-to-day customs to provide pet owners with products that make them feel even more connected to their pets.
Good and nutritious food is a necessity for both humans and pets, so customers are now looking for products that are natural and made with high-quality ingredients.
“I think we are finding out with our food that quality matters,” said Josh Israeslon, co-owner of Canine Crossing. “The same diseases that we suffer from our pets suffer from also. This to me is directly caused by the foods we eat.”
But many companies are reaching further to customers with food products. For example, terms like “gourmet,” “bistro” and “banquet” are usually affiliated with human foods, but Merrick chose these terms to describe their dog and cat food.
“At Merrick, we know that pet parents are looking for the highest-quality, nutritious food they can find for their pet, but they also are attracted to the recipes that appeal to their own dietary preferences and taste buds,” said Jillian Smith, director of communications at Merrick. “When it comes to our recipe names, we take cues from well-known human foods because they’re relatable to the pet parent. And since we hand stuff whole ingredients like baby carrots and chicken wings into the can, the food looks like something they’d want to eat themselves.”
Merrick Wet Recipes for dogs has names like Grammy’s Pot Pie, Big Texas Steak Tips Dinner and Cowboy Cookout, while its Purrfect Bistro line for cats features mouthwatering flavors like Oven Roasted Chicken. And all Merrick pet food is high in vitamins and packed with the savory flavors of the human foods they feature.
When it comes to treats, Exclusively Pet is “for the dog who is more than a pet.” This motto translates into its line Exclusively Pet Cookies, which look just like human cookies and are made with kosher ingredients.
And just like there is Gatorade for humans, there is a sports drink for dogs. DoggieWater is a flavored supplement drink that keeps dogs hydrated, replenishes their electrolytes and provides them with the vitamins they need to stay happy and healthy. DoggieWater also comes in human food flavors, like Bacon, Chicken and Steak, or comes in no flavor so it’s just like water.
The trend of humanizing cat and dog food is also manifesting into the non-cat and non-dog pet food categories, too. Small animals and birds have products, such “muffins” or “yogurt drops,” that are both similar to human food products and made with human-grade ingredients.
The Toys Trend
This manifestation is also present in toys, which provide entertainment and joy for humans and pets. And humanized pet toys provide pet owners with products that are new, unique and relatable.
“Humans are doing the buying and they are more likely to buy something they relate to or find cute/attractive,” said Kris Kaiser, marketing for DuckyWorld. “We often see our catnip banana referred to as the “Banana Phone” on Instagram, and [customers] refer to their cats making calls. So, much of the humanization comes from the customer.”
DuckyWorld took its cat toy inspirations directly from customers and human interest. Its line of Yeowww! Catnip products are brightly colored and come in shapes and designs that are familiar to people.
SodaPup also makes relatable toys. Its chew toys look like common human items, like soda cans, dice, food and even grenades. But they also respect a popular human interest: environment protection. SodaPup products are made of USA rubber that is environment-friendly but tough and durable for long-lasting play.
This translates into humanized pet products that don’t just come from human product inspiration. The founders of American Dog took their know-how of military and outdoor gear to create high-quality dog toys that last while keeping the American Dream – the dream that keeps humans working and bolsters the U.S.—at the helm of every creative production so that both humans and pets can benefit.
Pet Qwerks has many toy products that have a human look and name, like the Puppy Puck, but they were made based on logic. While not intentionally humanizing its products, Pet Qwerks is recognized for the innovation, safety and quality of its interactive dog toys, which resonates well with sports fans.
Speaking of sports fans, dressing pets up in items like jerseys or sweaters is probably the most common attribution to pet humanization. Naturally, pets don’t need to wear clothes but it’s still very popular amongst pet owners, and not just around Halloween.
“Clothing for dogs started as simply dressing up our pets and was more occasion based. It was seen as more of a fun statement where now the consumer mindset is shifting where clothing and gear combine both fashion and function,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer of Outward Hound. “The continued humanization is essentially our pets being accepted as part of our family whether they have two legs or four.”
Outward Hound focuses on functional gear, like lifejackets, backpacks and a new coat line that features 3M Thinsulate, that not only offer looks but also health and safety benefits. Thanks to its location in Denver, Colorado, product inspiration came from the outdoor industry and what pet parents wear themselves in the mountains and the city.
Observing what pet parents wear is how Ashley Harris gets ideas for her products. With her luxury dog boutique, Bark Fifth Avenue, her products are inspired by some of the biggest names in the fashion world. But her boutique also offers human-like services to pets that come in.
“Last year, we expanded into luxury spa services. I wanted to go beyond the everyday ‘norm’ of the typical grooming visit. Our highly trained staff offers massage therapy, aromatherapy, facials, and more,” Harris explained. “This year, I decided to offer even more ‘human-like’ services such as reiki. I decided to become certified and received my Animal Reiki Practitioner certificate. Animal Reiki is a simple, non-invasive alternative therapy to help animals balance on a physical, mental/emotional and energetic levels.”
And just like our own fashion industry, there are pet fashion products that cater to all budgets and styles. Hip Doggie’s array of apparel provides customers with a full closet for their pets. With jackets, dresses, vests, hoodies, sweaters, even pajamas, Hip Doggie has a piece of clothing for pets no matter the occasion or setting.
True to its name, Ethical Pet features more ethical fashion options for pets. The products are made with high-quality materials to provide protection and warmth from the elements of nature, but still keep with what is popular in the fashion industry, including colors, fabrics, patterns and more. Ethical Pet provides fashion products for pet owners who are interested in something fashionable, but are primarily durable, classic and conventional.
Not all pet owners want their pet products to stand out like fashion items do. In fact, many of them want it to blend in and match the colors and designs of their homes.
“[Things like] treat jars are out on the kitchen counters so customers want it all to match,” said Gretchen George, founder of Petrageous Designs, which makes products modeled after interior design trends while using colors that are popular with humans. “We do mirror the human product in many ways. But we do try to incorporate a ‘pet attachment’ [like] a paw, bone, or dog/cat on each item.”
Petrageous Designs also has metal and wood pet feeders, which customers love because they mirror what they purchase in the home store.
K9 Dog Beds has a line of bed products that are specifically home décor inspired. Made in partnership with celebrity designer, Wendy Bellissimo, the beds feature her signature print and pattern designs. These products keep with the classic, traditional bed just for dogs but add a human touch that fits into any home color, design and style.
While also complementing home décor, PupRug offers a more internal human touch with its line of orthopedic dog beds. On the outside, these beds are just for dogs, made with faux fur and the right shape for any size dog. But on the inside, they are made with memory foam, a sleep luxury that not even all humans have on their beds.
Complementing décor when it comes to travel is not really necessary, but most of the time a standard pet carrier just won’t do. P.L.A.Y.’s outdoor line includes the Dog Tent. This product is the same style camping tent that humans use, just miniaturized and decorated with dog patterns for pet use, because pet owners want products that are made for their outdoor excursions.
Any outdoor excursion for pets requires accessories like leashes and collars. And while the accessories themselves are classic and durable for the purpose they serve, the look and design of them doesn’t have to be, and that’s sparking customer interest.
Back in 1984, the only dog collars available were nylon or leather with little or no decoration. People thought the first six Up Country collars were crazy because the thought was that they were too fancy for dogs who roll in the mud. But now that times have changed, Up Country brings a sense of style with over 120 collar designs and dozens of lifestyle accessories that people love for their pets because it adds humanized personalization. Some of the designs also feature human items like mustaches.
Huxley & Kent likes to add a little fun to its accessories. With items like bow ties, bows, scrunchies, flowers and more, pet owners can add something extra to their pet’s collar, harness or leash. Each one comes in a variety of colors, sizes and patterns, some of which also feature human food. This allows pets to be adorned like humans for any occasion without sacrificing the safety of their collars and leashes.
Safety also plays into a healthy lifestyle, which is important for both humans and animals. And because many products to promote wellness have been successful for humans, that has transitioned to help pets.
“Our company was founded on the concept of using organic CBD (cannabidiol) to help pets feel better and live healthier, and the rewards we’ve seen are priceless,” said Caleb Gilmore of Suzie’s Pet. “Suzie’s CBD treats are a fantastic example of humanizing pets, through providing a medicinal service that increases the pet’s quality of life.”
Suzie’s Pets believes the quality of medicine should be equal for pets and humans alike. With its CBD products, the company provides pets with the opportunity to live happier and healthier lives.
“Pet humanization is far from ‘the latest trend’ or a silly fad. The bonds we develop with our pets bring priceless benefits, and anyone with a furry friend in their life would talk about them as if they were their own flesh and blood,” Gilmore explained.
Further proving this bond, Hemp Well began producing CBD hemp products for humans before moving fully to the pet industry in 2015. Its hemp products are GMO free and made organically and responsibly to help relieve aches, inflammation and pains for pets in a safe and efficient manner.
Some products were born out of a love for both a healthy lifestyle and pets equally, not just inspiration. Prana Pets is a company that thrives on a passion to secure the health of pets because their presence alone has enhanced human health. To match a healthy lifestyle for humans, every product utilizes all natural-compounds and ingredients of premium quality to ensure that pets also attain the lasting, vibrant health they deserve.
But not all health products are traditional medicines like CBD oils. Just like how massages soothe and release tension for humans, PetWell created massaging products to give pets an extra touch of love while reducing anxiety, stress, aching muscles and promoting healthy digestion. These products are perfect for pet owners who want to promote a more natural, healthy lifestyle for their pets without the need of medications.
No matter what pet product customers are looking for, products that speak to human interest are becoming the norm.
“The humanization of [pets] has been a slow and steady march to what it is today,” said Jim Gick, owner of Pet Qwerks. “So long as the relationship between owner [and pet] continues to change, there will be more humanizing products for sale in the stores.”
And the bond between humans and pets is the primary drive for humanizing products.
“Our culture has embraced all the benefits that owning a pet provides with science backed data. Owning a pet reduces stress, keeps us in shape, improves our social life and adds meaning and purpose,” Parness said. “Humanization is great for our industry, great for our pets and great for us.”