Pet market dodges Covid malaise in dog-crazy Brazil

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


While the coronavirus crisis has depressed most sectors of the economy in Brazil, the country with more dogs than children splurged much attention, and money, on its pets in 2020.

As lockdown measures compelled people to see less of their human friends, many turned their attention to their four-legged ones.

Sales of pet food and accessories rose a higher-than-expected 13.5 percent in 2020 from the previous year, according to the Brazil Pet Institute, an industry body, after nearly doubling in the past five years.

Pet adoption has soared too -- the upside of a rise in abandonments as the pandemic cost many people their income.

"I spent a lot of time at home, and the loneliness started to weigh on me," said Bruno Soares, a 36-year-old computer technician who is one of many to have brought a dog -- Brazil's pet of choice -- into his life during the global pandemic.

Soares has many anecdotes about Max, who now shares his 45-square-meter apartment in central Sao Paulo, and recounts with a mix of annoyance and tenderness how the white mongrel ate two of his shoes.

- Toys and snacks -

Marina Inserra, who runs an animal refuge in the city, said there had been a three-fold increase in adoptions in March last year -- with some 15 animals finding a new family every day.

"The kennels no longer had dogs... many people who lived alone wanted to buy a dog or a cat," added pet store owner Luiz Renato, who says demand for his grooming services has skyrocketed as well.

"People who used to pay for grooming every 15 days now pay for grooming every week, because they don't want to have the dog dirty inside the house," said Renato, whose revenue has doubled.

Sergio Zimerman, the founder of online pet store Petz, said the company grew 46.6 percent in 2020 from 2019.

He said toy and snack sales boomed, as did sales of cleaning products as more and more people seeking to socially distance from others started washing their dogs at home.

- Essential service -

The sector was aided, in large part, by being designated an "essential" service.

Along with pharmacies and supermarkets, pet goods stores could continue operating even as many other businesses have had to close their doors during intermittent lockdowns since March last year.

Inserra told AFP that the rise in pet adoptions has flattened somewhat as the pandemic has drawn on, though it was still higher than before.

Market observers do not expect the economic impact of the health crisis -- which claimed more than 375,000 lives in Brazil to date -- to change the country's obsession with pets.

The country of 212 million had some 54.2 million dogs in 2018, according to the Brazil Pet Institute.

This was out of a total of 140 million companion animals -- with cats, birds, fish, reptiles and small mammals also popular.

Brazil is the world's second-biggest market for dog food after the United States, and the third for pet food in general.