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About 85 million families in the U.S. currently have at least one pet. They’ve become an important part of our culture in so many different ways, and most people consider their pets to be a part of the family. So much so, that it’s no surprise the pet industry hit a whopping $103.6 billion in sales in 2020.

Needless to say, pet owners today like to spoil their furry (and sometimes not-so-furry) friends.

But, has pet ownership always been this way? Obviously, the way we care for our pets has changed over the years, but what has ownership looked like throughout history? What are the similarities and the differences?

Let’s touch briefly on the domestication of pets, and then focus on how much pet ownership has changed, specifically since the 1700s. 

The Rise of Domestication

It would be nearly impossible to fully dive into the domestication of pets in one article. There’s genetic evidence that dogs evolved from wolves nearly 40,000 years ago. The oldest known burial of a dog was just over 14,000 years ago, suggesting that at that time, they were already established as pets. Some domesticated animals were even revered centuries ago, such as cats in ancient Egypt.


The process of domestication was uniquely based on what pets were needed for throughout history. Around the world, pets were domesticated for multiple purposes, including:


●        Transportation

●        Work

●        Guarding

●        Herding

●        Companionship


Most pets — especially dogs — served dual purposes when they were tamed. They were made to work, and provided friendship to their owners. The goal of domestication was to raise animals around humans and other tame animals to ensure they didn’t bite, attack, or run away. Once they were tamed, they could be trained to complete whatever work was needed.

Pets in the 1700s

Though domestication had been prevalent for many years before the 1700s, the process continued well into this era. The most popular domesticated pets at the time were horses, cats, and dogs. However, there was an interesting shift in the types of pets people wanted to acquire in the 1700s, leading to an increase in trapping and taming animals such as:


●        Deer

●        Squirrels

●        Wild birds


Squirrels were incredibly popular pets in the 1700s, especially for children. Often, squirrel nests were “raided”  by humans in an effort to catch a baby, so they would grow up surrounded by humans. They became such an integral part of pet culture that many paintings from that era have included them with people. Benjamin Franklin wrote an ode to his squirrel’s death, and President Harding had a pet squirrel named Pete.


As far as other domesticated animals, their purposes really didn’t change much in the 18th century, except perhaps to put more of an emphasis on companionship. As the United States began to find its roots, dogs and horses were heavily relied upon to work, especially for families with farmland and livestock. Keeping animals outdoors was more prevalent then, but it was also a time of change when smaller animals like cats and dogs started to come inside and stay with their families.

The Prevalence of Pets Today

It’s interesting to consider how so much has changed when it comes to pet ownership. And yet, so much has stayed the same, too. Pets are still used in many different occupations — perhaps more than ever! Dogs work with police units to sniff out drugs, explosives, and criminals. Cats are kept in barns to keep mice away. Horses are used for hauling.

The list goes on when it comes to what our pets can do today. But, they’ve mostly transitioned into constant companions (hence the explosive pet industry we mentioned before).

Many people today use pets as accountability partners when they’re trying to stay healthy. Dogs, especially, need a certain amount of exercise each day. Diet and exercise are often the best ways to stay physically fit, and they promote good eye health, stronger muscles, and better cardiovascular health. Because of a dog’s need to walk and play, they can keep you healthier, too.

People tend to spoil their pets a bit more nowadays, spending more on supplies, toys, and even medical care. The average routine vet checkup costs anywhere from $45 to $55, and emergency visits can cost hundreds of dollars or more. So, pet insurance has become increasingly popular as a way to handle those costs for your furry family member.

Pets have played a vital role in the lives of humans for centuries. The types of pets most people keep may have changed slightly. How we care for them and what their major roles are have also shifted. But, it’s clear that domesticated pets are here to stay, and rightfully so. If you have a furry friend at home, you know just how special that relationship is.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.