Dogs may be known as man’s best friend, but for most of their owners, even that lavish sobriquet appears to undershoot the mark. Fully 85% of dog owners say they consider their pet to be a member of their family, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And most cat owners (78%) feel the same way. The pets-as-four-legged-family-member phenomenon helps explain everything from the heart-tugging scenes during Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005, when some Gulf Coast residents risked staying home because they did not want to abandon their pets, to the explosive recent growth of the pet care industry. Americans spent an estimated $35.9 billion on their pets in 2005, up from $17 billon in 1994, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Some of that money went for pet cosmetic surgery, pet insurance, pet strollers, pet waterbeds and, yes, pet spas and hotels. (The “Presidential Suite” at the Ritzy Canine Carriage House in Manhattan is available for $175 a night, breakfast included.) The nationwide Pew survey of 3,014 adults finds that just about every breed of human owner considers their pet to be family. But some groups are more disposed than others to feel this way. For example, more women than men describe their dog or cat as a member of the family. So do those who aren’t parents, compared with those who have children. Also owners who live in cities or suburbs are more likely than those who live in rural areas to describe their dog or cat as a family member. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.