The Generational Evolution of Pet Parenthood
If you've ever found yourself saying "I won't raise my pup like my parents did", you're not alone. Pet parenthood continues to evolve with each new generation. Figo explores the differences between pet moms and dads and those that came before them.
There's no doubt about it - the role of pets in our lives has continued to rapidly evolve over the years. Looking back at my childhood, I remember my well-meaning, animal-loving parents adopting a Shepherd-mix puppy and taking him on all of two walks a week. His rambunctious personality - clearly the result of under stimulation - was remedied with a spray water bottle to keep him from being mouthy or jumping.
Later, when my family adopted a traumatized German Shepherd with reactivity issues, they turned to outdated trainers and methods to try to curb her anxiety - which ultimately did not work.
At the time I recall knowing that my parents loved their dogs deeply, but recognizing that I would do things differently when I one day had a pup of my own.
This sentiment is shared among many current pet parents. We spoke with some of our own Figo team members about the biggest differences between the way their parents raised pets when they were growing up, and the way they raise their pets now. Let's take a look.
Many cat and dog parents come from families who did not allow pets on furniture. Whether it be sleeping in a separate room or keeping them off couches, older generations tend to make a distinction between dogs and family members and use furniture to enforce those boundaries.
In the past, trainers would suggest that pet parents keep their companions off of the bed or couch to assert pack dominance. These days, trainers and pet parents are much more lax. According to The Spruce Pets, "despite what some people believe, allowing your dog on the furniture will not make him think he is in charge."
Additionally, older generations were more likely to keep pets outdoors, so it made more sense hygienically to keep those dogs and cats off of any nice furniture.
Younger generations of pet parents want their soulful sidekicks close by. It's not unusual to find a couple sharing their bed with a dog or cat, or two.
When it comes down to it, as long as your pet doesn't have resource-guarding issues and listens to you when you tell them to get down, there should be no issues with some regular bedtime snuggles.
No cavities here!
Vet care has continued to develop to the point that pet owners are becoming much more interested in preventative care and wellness than ever before. It makes sense, right? A little maintenance ahead of time can avoid larger vet bills down the road.
This is certainly the case when it comes to oral hygiene and dental health. Figo team members Kirsti, Alyssa, and Kari all said that while their parents didn't give much thought to tooth scrubbing, they consider it to be an important part of their pets' overall care.
Preventative care in general is becoming more of a norm in the pet parent community. Owners can submit their dog or cat's saliva to get the low-down on their genetic predispositions and warn them of potential upcoming health threats. Within the insurance space, wellness plans and add-ons are commonly requested.
Whether it's scheduling routine dental appointments or getting down to it and brushing those pearly whites yourself, I think we can all agree that it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our pets' health.
Home, home on the range
When it comes to free-roaming pups, these days there's a lot more variation and flexibility on the training scene. As a child, crating our pets was just a given. Despite the fact that our precocious German Shepherd was fine unconfined and only became destructive when crated, only after several years did we realize we could ditch the cage.
Pet parents today have the freedom to make individualized decisions for their companions, which is great! Some dogs need the den-like retreat that a crate provides to feel secure when their parents are gone. Others, like my current dog Greta, are perfectly content just lounging on the couch napping until their family gets home.
Figo team member Kari said of modern crate training, "I only crate my pets (only certain ones) for safety and training. I never leave them in a crate for hours and hours." I would say this sentiment is shared among younger generations of pet parents.
If crate training is preferred, trainers recommend that pet moms and dads are certain to maintain a positive association with it. That means not sending their pups to the crate multiple times a day for punishment, and not leaving them alone for hours and hours, especially as young puppies.
Many current pet moms and dads grew up with outdoor pets in their families. While this concept is still in practice in rural communities, suburban and urban-dwelling pet parents have largely come to see dogs and cats as indoor companion animals only.
Figo team member Kayla noted that she places importance on "fenced-in yards and walks, and not just letting them out to roam the neighborhood freely".
Similarly, team member Jessica recalled, "my grandma and mom grew up in Mexico, feeding the dogs leftovers, keeping them outdoors, etc. My grandma recently came to visit and it was very different having a dog indoors and seeing how they have a 'strict' diet of no cooked bones."
These days, most experts agree that dogs and cats should be left indoors for the majority of their lifetime. While daily walks and trips to the backyard are necessary for dogs, both cats and canines alike live longer, healthier lives when they're inside, as they aren't exposed to elements, dangerous animals, diseases, cars, etc.
Figo team member Susan echoed this sentiment: "My favorite cat as a kid, Tuffy, was the stereotypical ally cat: orange, always beat up and bringing in trophies. Our current cats are indoor only!"
Of course, this can vary depending on your lifestyle and location, so always consult your vet for individual guidance.
While many pet parents travel without their dog or cat in tow, younger generations have taken strongly to pet-friendly travel and events.
In fact, searches for pet-friendly vacations and travel tips have grown astronomically over the years. According to Forbes, "searches for pet-friendly airlines have significantly increased in the last 12 months, with searches for ‘southwest airlines pet policy’ (+1,750%), 'united airlines pet policy' (+850%), and 'american airlines pet policy' (+550%)".
Here at Figo, we're so down with the pet-friendly vacation life that we launched an entire pet-friendly Airbnb campaign on our blog, outlining the best places to stay with your curious copilots in every state.
Not only that, but dog and cat-centric events and pop-ups have become engrained into popular culture. From dog-mom meetups to pet photos with Santa, it appears that the activities that our own parents used to do with us as children are now being passed on to our pets.
And that makes sense! Studies show that many Millennials and Gen Z'ers are waiting to have children until later in life, and favoring pets in the meantime. As the Wildest points out, "70 percent of respondents [do] indeed view their dog/cat as their child.” Newer generations of pet parents incorporate their pets fully into their lifestyles for this reason.
As "gotcha-day" Tiktok announcements, pet-friendly weddings, and doggy birthday parties become the norm, we need only look at those stats to understand why.
While pet parents of the past may have opened a bag of Iams (no hate) and called it a day, in recent years, the pet space has exploded and given us dozens of dietary options for our dogs and cats.
While generic kibble is still a valid option for many - especially when it comes to staying frugal in a struggling economy - other more privileged pet parents may now opt for meal services, customized to their individual pets.
Even celebrity chefs have hopped on board. Bobby Flay recently launched a line of gourmet, "cat-crafted" cat food named after his own feline family member, Nacho. And don't even get me started when it comes to delivery meal plans. From human-grade Pet Plate, nutritionist-developed Farmer's Dog, or fresh, individually portioned Ollie, the options are endless!
On top of that, other pet parents are cooking and assembling their own raw diets for their dogs and cats. All of these choices were wholly unavailable to pet moms and dads of earlier generations, but they seem to only be becoming more and more mainstream.
As always, consult your vet before you make any dietary changes to your dog's meals.
The great pet parent sacrifice
"My parents' generation probably thinks this is the most outrageous thing they've ever heard and that we're both doing way too much for this cat, but it's his home and his life too!"
As the mom of a rescued reactive dog, I know firsthand the struggle many experience when they become pet parents. I worked on and trained and medicated behaviors that likely would have gotten my pup euthanized generations prior.
That's not to say I'm special or any better than my parent's generation of pet parents. Internet access has increased the resources available to pet owners. There are Facebook communities, Youtube videos, and even virtual trainers that can help guide us on our journey - all of which were non-existent decades prior. And yet despite all these resources, I still have had to majorly adjust my life in order to make my dog more comfortable.
Even when it comes to non-reactive pets, newer generations of pet parents have become accustomed to making sacrifices for their companions.
Figo CX Supervisor Jade noted, "I think the biggest one for me is that my generation is more willing to make big sacrifices for the physical and mental well-being of our pets. My partner and I want to go to Europe for a couple of weeks for our honeymoon. Our one cat has bad stranger danger even with our pet sitter that he knows so he tends to stop eating when we're gone. So we have to get him adjusted before we leave."
Like any devoted pet parent would do, she continues, "our plan is to do a few overnight trips over the next year so he gets more familiar with our pet sitter. My parents' generation probably thinks this is the most outrageous thing they've ever heard and that we're both doing way too much for this cat, but it's his home and his life too!"
Amen, Jade. Amen!
Spoiled, for good reason
Toys, food puzzles, enrichment games, dog parks, pet tv, oh my! Our dogs and cats are the beneficiaries of the growing market for what I'll call "animal leisure". Current generations of pet parents are now not just concerned with meeting their dog or cat's basic needs. These days, it has evolved into something much... greater?
It's certainly no coincidence that the Pet Accessories market in the U.S. was estimated at a whopping US$12.2 Billion in the year 2021!
At Figo, we believe that it's never a waste to give your pet the life they deserve. Many pet moms and dads take that to the next level with toy subscription boxes like BarkBox, DIY Kong recipes to keep their pups entertained, and even pet clothing to ensure their companions achieve maximum comfort on walks.
There are probably ten doggy daycare facilities within a five-mile vicinity of me in Chicago. Giant indoor dog parks are popping up in cities across the nation. Cat lovers are documented and featured in a full-length Netflix film. This is likely just the tip of the pet leisure industry iceberg.
While our dog and cat's grandparents might observe this with disbelief, it really is a testament to how important pets have become to the everyday owner. And while it is a privilege and a luxury to indulge our pets in this way, it certainly comes from a place of deep devotion and appreciation.
Making my dog happy makes me happy, so I'll continue to indulge as long as I can.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.