Who Keeps the Dog? A Survey on Pets, Breakups, and Custody

by | 02/24/2023

A lot of American households have changed over the last few years; many have adopted “pandemic pets,” and many have entered into new “pandemic relationships” with significant others. Unfortunately, while pet adoption is for life, many pets become a part of romantic relationships that eventually end.

We wanted to know: how exactly do Americans handle pets as they deal with breakups and divorces? How do they decide who keeps a pet, and what would they give up in order to keep one? We conducted a survey of over 1500 American pet owners in order to find out.

Why Does 365 Pet Insurance Care?

As a team that genuinely cares about the welfare of pets and how we maintain our relationships with our animals, it piqued our interest to hear that there is an increasing number of custody battles for pets. We began wondering who it is that’s fighting to keep their four-legged friends and what we can do differently to serve those single paw-rents better.

Our Methodology

To determine who fights and wins the unfortunate battle over pets in a breakup or divorce, we conducted a survey of over 1,500 American pet owners, all of whom were over the age of 18. The survey was done on a random and nearly equal assortment of men and women between January 21st and January 23rd of 2022.

Americans’ Opinions on Pet Custody

First, we wanted to get an idea of what Americans thought about pet custody, a relatively new concept that has been gaining traction over the past decade or so.

We first asked survey participants how likely they were to get a pet with a partner to whom they weren’t married. This gave us some insight into how willingly Americans are to commit to the massive responsibility of owning a pet even before they have “settled down.”

A staggering 75% of respondents reported that they would have no issues with getting a pet with a partner they weren’t married to, and 38% stated that they have. This immediately puts into perspective how important our pets are to us, as they often come before other major milestones in a relationship.

Interestingly, the likelihood of committing to a pet with a partner before settling into marriage increases as the generations get younger. Baby boomers are the least willing to commit to a pet before marriage, with around 65% reporting that they would. They are followed by Gen X with 73% reporting that they would, Millennials with 74%, and Gen Zers with an impressive 82%.

We asked all survey participants about “pet custody,” a relatively new idea but one that is becoming more prevalent in divorce proceedings. Nearly 20% of respondents reported that they had already won a pet custody battle, and almost twice the number of respondents stated that they would enter into a “pet prenup” before getting married to avoid a custody battle down the road.

Women are the ones that take custody of pets after a breakup or divorce most often, according to our survey. Over 60% of the individuals who have gotten pet custody after a relationship goes south were female.

These numbers represent a lot of people who are putting their pets first — something we love to see — and considering their well-being in the future, even at the expense of the human-human relationship.

More than half of all respondents said they believe pets should be treated just as children are in a divorce, which means that most people genuinely believe their pets are a part of their family.

Just How Important Are Pets to Americans?

The unconditional love of a pet is priceless to many, and we wanted to know precisely what people would be willing to give up if it meant keeping their pet in a breakup or divorce.

We first asked survey respondents if they’d rather share custody or leave both the other person and the pet behind and cut ties entirely. About 1,000 of the 1,500 respondents reported that they would rather share custody. It’s interesting to compare this nearly 66% in favor of shared custody to the more than 50% of divorced couples that agree that child custody should go to the mother.

We also asked about mutual friends and whether respondents would rather lose an entire friend group or part ways with their pets. More than two-thirds of all survey participants stated that they would prefer to ditch the human friends, an endearing statistic that puts into perspective how important our pets’ love is to us.

Interestingly, the statistics are nearly identical across all age groups, with almost exactly the same number of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials stating they would rather have their pet’s love than their mutual friend group. Gen Zers were only slightly more interested in friends — about 3% more people would choose friends — but still overwhelmingly stated they would prefer to stick with their pets.

More than 80% of all respondents stated they would rather keep their pet than shared furniture, and an incredible 59% said they would rather lose the shared house or apartment than the shared pet. About 60% of all Millennials and Gen Xers would choose the pet over the living arrangements, while Gen Zers and Baby Boomers were split almost down the middle.

It’s clear that pet owners are fanatics for their four-legged friends, and these statistics show that the love of a pet often trumps human friendship, material goods, and even living arrangements and large-scale monetary investments.

Wrapping Up: Significant Insights & Conclusions

While thinking about breakups and divorce can be upsetting, it’s nice to know that Americans often put their pets first when splitting up with a partner. We know that countless people think of their pets as family members and treat them the same — and sometimes even better — but having hard data to prove just how important pets are is endearing.

We concluded that the majority of Americans value their pets and their well-being more than most material belongings. Most would choose their pet over furniture, shared belongings, and even apartments and homes. Incredibly, the majority of our survey respondents even said that they would choose the relationship with their pet over seeing mutual friends, a point in favor of the idea that we value pets more than humans in some cases.

There are few trends based on age and gender that are statistically significant in how we treat our pets in breakup and divorce, indicating that pets have and probably always will be an enormous part of our lives. Women are generally more likely to fight for custody of their pets, and younger respondents were more likely to commit to a shared pet before getting married.