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'The costs are just astronomical': Pet owners and retailers struggle with inflation

The pandemic prompted a surge in pet adoptions and a boom in business for pet supply retailers, but inflation is starting to change those trends.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Inflation is impacting pet owners in the Portland area, raising the cost of feeding and caring for four-legged family members.

Nationally, pet product costs have risen an average of 8.3% from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and pet service and care costs are up 7.8%.

The American Pet Products Association announced in April that the industry hit an all-time high of $123.6 billion in sales in 2021, powered by increased pet adoptions during the pandemic, but the same report cautioned that growth could slow in the second half of 2022 due to inflation and supply chain issues.

Local pet owners, retailers and adoption agencies say those trends sound familiar.

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At specialty pet food store Meat for Cats and Dogs in Southeast Portland, owner Heidi Liedeker said she’s had to adjust her prices in response to frequent hikes from manufacturers this year. All kinds of products have seen price hikes, but the biggest impact has been in food, both dry kibble and raw meat.

“I focus on raw pet food, so we’re dealing with the same meat suppliers that a lot of the human industry is dealing with,” she said. “I feel like every one of our manufacturers has had a price increase in the last couple months, and those look anywhere from a dollar a product up to a 15-20% markup.”

Liedeker said she’s added a list of recent price increases behind the counter so customers can track the changes. The store has always run promotions like bulk discounts and frequent buyer cards, she said, but lately customers have been paying closer attention and exploring their options.

“It’s hard to charge people more for something that I know they need, so we do a lot of discounts in-house to try to make it still affordable to feed a better diet,” she said.

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At the Oregon Humane Society in North Portland, material operating costs have risen on a number of fronts – everything from gloves and paper products to the locks used to secure animal kennels. Pet food donations have also decreased, according to public information manager Laura Klink.

“We typically rely to a degree on food donations from big companies like Chewy.com and Amazon,” she said. “Those donations are down about 25%, and where we really seen an impact is with getting donations of canned food, and even just buying canned food has been a challenge.”

Rising costs are impacting pet owners as well, she said, particularly when coupled with other inflationary impacts and the high cost of housing in Portland.

“We don’t have a lot of specific numbers, but anecdotally, we’ve definitely seen people having to relinquish their pets because of loss of housing, loss of job, etc., and so that is something we do see on a regular basis,” she said.

The pet adoption rate in Portland hasn't slowed down in recent months, she said, but shelters in other parts of the state have seen influxes of animals. Some of those shelters are struggling with staffing challenges, she said, particularly a shortage of veterinary care providers.

“I think the biggest issue that we’re hearing from pet owners, and even from adopters, is finding a veterinarian and finding affordable vet care,” she said.

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During a recent visit to the Humane Society, Sasha Scanlan said her family had to switch to larger bulk bags of food for their chihuahua a few months ago. But despite the cost increases, she and her daughters came to the Humane Society that day to adopt a second dog.

“Inflation is definitely a big deal right now, and that is one of our biggest things with coming in to make a purchase, is that yeah, it’s money out of our pocket,” she said. “But we do love the little furry animals, so I guess we will make it work.”

Others have had to hold off on expanding their pet families. At a dog park in Northwest Portland, Aaron Sherman said he and his fiancé have been thinking about adopting a second dog, but with pet food and veterinary costs both going up for their first dog, they won’t be able to do it anytime soon.

“The costs are just astronomical. We’ve definitely had to get creative with her food, like splicing in some raw vegetables,” he said.

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