Snoopy. Lassie. Garfield.. Few connections are as special as the bond between a person and a pet. For almost two thirds of American households, pets are friends and family members. Pet owners want to provide the best possible quality of life for their companions.

Unfortunately, new rules and fees are making it more difficult and more expensive for pet owners to care for their pets – and Washington, D.C. is to blame.

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A trade war between the United States and China has resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on imported items, as well as steep retaliatory measures from our trading partners. It’s been well-documented that those tariffs will affect the cost of common goods like groceries, furniture and clothes. But for 84.6 million American homes, tariffs are having a drastic impact on how they care for their pets.

Dozens of items on the administration’s list of tariffs on imported goods are materials that go into pet-care products, which directly leads to higher costs for pet owners. Many distributors and manufacturers have already notified pet-industry retailers of a 10 percent price increase across the board, corresponding with the current 10 percent tariff on imported goods. Tariffs could rise again from 10 percent to 25 percent at the beginning of the year, and prices for pet-care products are likely to increase again, if the United States and China fail to follow through on a tentative deal announced in early December.  

Many retailers try to absorb those costs in order to avoid raising prices on customers. That’s a viable short-term strategy, but retailers can’t sustain increased costs forever. Since the tariff rate could increase again in a matter of weeks, it won’t be long before pet owners feel the full sting of tariffs when they purchase pet-care products. Tariffs are effectively a tax on pet food, toys, grooming products, and other care items – if you can find it on the shelf, there’s a good chance it’s affected by the trade war.

Industry research has found millenials are the largest and fastest-growing demographic when it comes to pet ownership, and many of them will be disproportionately affected by increases in pet-care costs. People with tighter budgets will have a harder time stretching those budgets to pay more for the products they need to care for their pets. There’s no question that an extended, expensive trade war will have an adverse impact on animal welfare. And if pet ownership becomes cost prohibitive, it will have a negative effect on humans, too. We know pets promote good mental and physical health. If anything, during these divisive and tumultuous times, we should be promoting more pet ownership, not less.

Tariffs aren’t just bad for pets and pet owners. The pet industry is an important economic driver that creates jobs, not only in manufacturing and retail, but also in other important areas like veterinary care. We know the pet industry accounts for more than 1.3 million American jobs and creates more than $60 billion in salary, wages, and benefits for American workers. If the pet industry struggles, so do American workers and our economy as a whole.

Much of the pet industry is made up of small and independent retailers that generate between $500,000 and $800,000 in revenue per year. Those businesses carry significant overhead costs due to large investments in inventory. Price increases of up to 25 percent could be devastating. Many of these businesses are already considering layoffs and could be forced to cut costs significantly in order to keep their doors open.  

The trade war is also a hindrance for American companies that hope to sell pet products overseas. The pet industry in China is booming, with an annual growth forecast above 20 percent. That growth equates to high demand for American products, particularly pet food. The Chinese pet food industry has a spotted health and safety record, which could create an opening for pet owners to opt for safer American alternatives. The impact of these ongoing trade skirmishes has been a further hardening of the Chinese market to American exports, where there had been hope for increased access as recently as the early part of 2018. Tariffs are a self-inflicted wound that hurt our industry, and the economy as a whole.

Pet ownership is a central part of life for American families. Unfortunately, misguided trade policies are making it more expensive to own and care for our pets, and could ultimately make it less likely that Americans choose to bring pets into their homes. We hope the administration will change course, for the sake of the pet industry, the millions of Americans whose lives are enriched by pet ownership, and for our economy.

Mike Bober is the President & CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Jacinthe Moreau is the President of the World Pet Association.