9 Investigates

Pampered pets: From acupuncture to specialty diets, how Americans shell out billions a year on their 4-legged family members

ORLANDO, Fla. — From orthopedic surgery and acupuncture to specialty diets, Americans are paying tens of billions of dollars a year on health care – for their pets.

And, as Channel 9 reporter Angela Jacobs discovered, that spending is on the rise, both across the country and in Central Florida, and expected to break another record in 2020.

In 2019, pet care spending topped an estimated $75 billion, with more than half of that going toward health care.

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Jacobs found people will do almost anything to keep their pets healthy and happy.

‘She's happy, then mommy's happy!’

Pet owner Jessica Armstrong said she’s cut down her own grocery bill to be able to purchase specialty food to keep her pet happy and healthy.

She’s one of millions of millennials who, according to the American Pet Products Association, now make up the country's largest percentage of pet owners.

READ: Animal etiquette: Are you a polite and responsible pet parent?

Deb Lynch, the owner of Pet Orlando, says she’s had steady business for two decades crafting specialty raw dog food for Central Florida pets. But a new wave of millennial customers, including Armstrong, are giving her business a boost.

“Sometimes I have to bring down my grocery bill for myself in order to get her this food, but I'm totally fine with that,” Armstrong said. “If she's feeling great, if her tummy's happy, if her skin is happy, she's happy, then mommy's happy!”

Lynch said they make between 600 to 800 pounds of the raw food twice a week on-site at their store and also offer national shipping.

“I just know what works and what has helped, and helping myself, to help my animals,” she said.

Pet Orlando offers several variations of raw meat diets, from a “barnyard blend” to quail.

“You'll see organ meats in there and everything,” Lynch said.

Armstrong said it makes sense for her to treat her four-legged fur child the same way she would a human child.

“Because for me, my dog is my child,” she said. “So I would do for a four-legged baby what I would do for a two-legged baby.”

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There’s a specialist for that

Does your dog have a bad back? A heart condition? Maybe you just want it to improve its mobility? There’s a specialist for that.

“There are cancer specialists, there are cardiac specialists, there are sports specialists,” said Tom Bohn, with the Orlando-based North American Veterinary Community. NAVC’s association is ranked the number one provider of vet education in the world.

READ: New treatment options could lengthen your pet’s life

Holistic care is the draw at Rocky's Retreat, a local canine fitness boutique.

Jackson, an 8-year-old a search and rescue dog who aids in natural disasters, goes to Rocky’s for hydrotherapy to help with an old back injury.

“I mean, he's like a puppy again,” his owner, Susan Wesley, said.

Wesley, a retired Orange County firefighter, invests in hydrotherapy, as well as acupuncture.

“It's really not that expensive compared to what you would pay for vet bills to get stuff repaired,” she said.

Rocky’s Retreat owner April Cox said pet care is just following the trends of general human care.

Cox said people are looking for more organic and non-GMO options for themselves, so it makes sense that they look for the same for their pets.

Trends like that are contributing to ballooning pet care spending. In 2020, pet health care costs are expected to rise another $2 billion to $3 billion.

Pet owners like Armstrong and Wesley, as well as numerous studies, will tell you it’s worth it.

Studies have shown pet ownership enhances the health of humans, as well.

READ: Can a child benefit from having a pet? Some experts say, ‘yes’

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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