The Petriarchy – pets are becoming the new +1 across Australia

The Petriarchy – pets are becoming the new +1 across Australia While it’s perhaps no surprise Australia is a proud nation of pet lovers, the sheer extent of just how much our furry friends influence our modern lives may both shock and delight you…

8 Apr 2016

While it’s perhaps no surprise Australia is a proud nation of pet lovers, the sheer extent of just how much our furry friends influence our modern lives may both shock and delight you…

What’s our pet profile?

With over 25 million pets running about Downunder, it’s no surprise that Australia enjoys one of the highest rates of pet ownership on the planet – approximately 66% of households have a pet. So, where did this love of wagging tails and purring fur come from? Basically, it’s all due to how Australia evolved from a primarily agricultural society to a sophisticated urban one – all the domesticated dogs we once used to guard or herd livestock, and all the cats we had around to keep down rodent populations made something of an imprint on our collective psyche. And so when we as humans moved more indoors or to the big smoke, they came with us.

Nowadays dogs remain the most common pets with currently 4.2 million dogs in Australia! And among all Aussie pet parents, around half own a dog only while about one in four (27.9%) own a cat only. That said, a further one in five (21.2%) see benefit in a combo of canine and feline companionship, owning both a cat and a dog.

So Australians own lots of pets, but that doesn’t answer the question over just how dedicated we are to them. Well, if the latest research by Real Insurance surveying 1000 pet parents is anything to go by, the adoration of our furry friends appears to be mutual…

More than man’s best friend?

For Australians, our commitment to our pets is a big deal.

For a start, pets can often be the deal-breaker in a relationship. Forty-two per cent of single people say that if a potential partner didn’t like their furry companion then it would be a major issue – they might be willing to give it some time, but otherwise the relationship would come to a quick end. Another 17.8% would simply dump the other person straight-up. For single dog lovers, 44.3% believe that any prospective partner who is a cat person might adversely impact any relationship hopes and when it’s the other way around, 37.9% of cat owners would be similarly wary of anything long-term with a dog owner.

Interestingly, 43.9% of pet owners who are childless describe owning a pet as a “substitute for having kids”, explaining that their pet provides “good company” (65.5%), “unconditional love and affection” (63.3%) and is “less stressful than having children” (58.2%). That said, nine out of ten Aussies also say owning a pet doesn’t limit the number of children they want to potentially have – in fact, 71.1% say it’s “good practice” for the real thing.

Pet survey infographic

So, who is the alpha in the pack then?

One might think that the arrival of a new baby would overtake the family pet as the centre of attention… but according to the research by Real Insurance this is not so. Over 35% of Aussies say that once their new addition arrives, the family pet would still be considered just as important. But it’s not just babies having to settle for equal attention – 43.5% of pet owners believe their pet is something of a “substitute for having a partner”, because they provide good company, unconditional love and affection, are loyal and they can totally trust them. Over half of singles surveyed say pets hold a lot of sway over their decisions.

Curiously, when asked whose company they prefer most, one in three elected their pet over their partner, citing the former made them feel more “relaxed, loving and fun” – in fact, two in five also say they’re “less argumentative” and over a third feel “more appreciated” by their pets than their partners.

In one revelation sure to make animal trainers wag their fingers in stern disapproval, 42.4% of pet owners allow their pet sleep inside their bedroom while around a third of apartment or townhouse dwellers let their pets bunk down in the bed with them.

This emotional connection with the furry ball curled up on the bed may also be the reason why Aussies are also big on humanising their four-legged buddies. The research found that 46.9% of pet parents think there’s truth to the myth that “pets look like their owners”, while 64.5% believe that a pet adopts the same personality as their owner.

So, it begs (pun intended) the next question: how does this happy obsession with our pets affect Aussies’ hip pocket and home life?

The true price of pet-life

Money and time

So how much do we spend on our pets? Well, if the sight of pet megastores popping up all over our main roads wasn’t already an obvious clue, then suffice to say, the pet industry plays a major role in our economy – it currently employs more than 44,700 people and is valued at over $4.74 billion.

Partners needn’t panic just yet, though. Significant others still win over pets in some ways. For example, those pet owners in a relationship admit to spending on average 15 hours more quality time with their partners than they do their pets.

In an interesting comparison between types of pet owners, however, if an animal requires surgery or medical treatment costing upwards of $1,000, more dog owners (63.3%) will front up the cash compared to cat owners (38.7%).

Real estate

Pets may also be dictating Aussie real estate decisions with the research showing that when moving house 75.3% of pet owners say that their pets influence their choice of new home. Similarly, the responsibility of owning a pet heavily influences holiday planning. Two in three people say their pets limit both frequency and length of vacations – and when they do have to leave their pets behind, 31.4% offload them to friends or family, 19.8% get a live-in “petsitter”, while 19.6% have somebody drop by each day to feed and check in on them.


In general, juggling work and lifestyle commitments is also an issue for all pet-owners, with three out of ten Aussies taking “pet sick leave” at some point. Another two-thirds admit to experiencing guilt over “abandoning” their animals at home during work hours. Interestingly though, 53.7% say they feel immediately exonerated of their guilt by taking their dogs for a walk. Of cat owners, 56.6% keep their cat inside while they’re away from home, compared to 43% of dog owners who make sure to keep their pooch in the backyard.

Lady and the (trendy) Tramp

When pedigree and designer pet-owners were questioned over why they were drawn to “genetic purity” in their furry friends, 54.1% said they “liked the look”, 49.6% said it came down to “behaviour and temperament”, and 34.8% said it was all about ensuring the “perfect size”.

Notably, there’s a big difference in where cat and dog owners source their pets. Two in five cat owners hit up their local rescue shelters compare to almost half of dog owners who bought from certified breeders. (Once again, there goes that cliché about cats being elitist – their owners certainly don’t appear to be!) And when it came down to why people made the choice of a rescue pet, the vast majority (81.2%) said it was because they “felt good about saving a life”.

Additionally, 48.5% admitted that because rescue pets are microchipped, desexed and wormed it helped cement their decision, while a further 29.4% suggested it was more based on a “moral stance” against puppy farms.

Pets-pective over perspective?

The research also shows Australians donate almost as much to animal welfare foundations as they do to research into new medical breakthroughs, while human rights organisations rank a distant third. In fact, three-quarters of pet owners say they’re more moved by stories relating to animal cruelty, while only a quarter or so are as equally outraged by human rights issues. Despite this, over 60% of Australians believe we “pamper our pets too much” and question why so many people “care more about animals than humans”.

Pet-perks improving the nation

So why do we love our pets so much? An overwhelming 93.1% of pet owners say it “improves their physical and mental well-being”, and a further 73.1% believe pets “reduce stress and anxiety”, 62.2% say it’s also about “companionship”, 48.4% simply like “being needed” and 45% admit it “encourages them to exercise”.

Aussies also think that owning a pet makes them a better person – 96.9% say it makes them “happier and less isolated”, 93.3% suggest it makes them “more compassionate”, while 70.3% claim pets make them more “environmentally conscious”.

Our Real Australian Pets survey has proven that we are definitely a pet smitten nation and that for many people, pets form a major part of their lives. They influence many of our lifestyle factors, including relationships, work and leisure, however in the end the love is mutual and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


  1. How many pets are there in Australia? – RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase
  2. Australians and their pets: the facts – Australian Companion Animal Council

Download full research report