Attitudes to pet ownership are changing in Indonesia with people increasingly viewing their cats and dogs as part of the family. Pet owners are shifting from non-prepared to prepared food, and also raise awareness on pet nutrition and mental health. Especially, the pet food sector continues to grow in spite of global economic challenges under covid.

As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed our Indonesian Guide Elizabeth to help us understand more about pet culture in Indonesia and how it has been changing in recent years.

Hi Elizabeth! Tell us a bit about yourself and your passions.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth from Jakarta, currently doing master programme in Economy. I’m very interested in finance and economics in general and worked in investment banking and finance before doing my master. I travel a lot and used to live in Singapore and US as well for study. Now I’m a ‘dog mum’ with 8 dogs.

How did you become a ‘Dog Mum’?

Me and my mum are both very passionate about dogs, we adopted all of our 8 dogs from friends or people who can’t look after them anymore.

My dogs bring me a lot joy in life, they are just like my kids. I remembered that one of our dogs climbed on the coffee table on Chinese New Year’s Eve, and ate our pineapple tarts. They are just like kids, sometimes can be really annoying but also make us very happy. There is a term in Indonesia ‘anabul’, short for anak bulu which means fur child. That’s how I feel about my dogs.

In Indonesia, it’s common to have helper at home. With so many dogs at home, luckily I got two household staffs who help me with feeding and brushing the dogs. When the weather is nice, I love taking the dogs for walk and playing ball with them. I also like to train the dogs to do tricks. When they managed to learn a new trick from me, I feel they understand me in certain way. It’s fun to show my friends my the dogs’ new tricks.  

I really cherish the bonding between me and the dogs. What brings me most joy is to see how excited my dog feel when they see me coming home, especially after a long travel, when they running to me just made me melted. The unconditional love they give me is priceless. Therefore, I made blog on Instagram to document the interesting things about my dogs.

How would you describe Pet culture in Indonesia?

Raising pets is not as common in Indonesia as it is in the west. Animals in rural families used to be raised for their meat, eggs, milk or other by-products. Most public places in Indonesia are not pet-friendly. I remembered when I was living in New York, I could bring my dog to taxi or underground. But in Jakarta, this is not allowed, not even in hotels and most apartments.

However, feelings towards pets are changing especially in middle and upper-class families in urban areas. The concept of a cat or dog being a part of the family with free access to the home, beds, sofas, and table scraps is becoming more common. With younger generation more exposed to western culture, the idea of having a pet like a family is also becoming more popular. One popular Instagram account in Indonesia is @ thehuskypride, the family has 7 huskies and people love to see their moments about how the family kids grow with the dog.

Are there any cultural watch outs for pet owners in Indonesia?

There is a big Muslim population in Indonesia. In Islam, it is taught that the dog is an unclean animal and haram (because they groom their anus). If a believer is touched by a dog’s nose or licked by a dog, this is an unclean act. There’s also stereotype around dog influencing women’s fertility.

Some household staff does not want to work in a house that has a dog. Some can tolerate the dog, as long as they don’t have to bathe, feed or care for the dog. Others find it highly insulting to have to clean up the dogs feces.

Apart from that, the tropical climate in Jakarta can be difficult for dogs with thick or long hair, dogs with excessive skin folds, pug noses, or very thin coats. It is also a good idea to avoid over bred dogs that might have genetic or personality problems that develop over time.

Have you noticed any changes in terms of pet ownership in recent years?

The humanization of pets has become a trend. There has been a shift from pet ‘ownership’ to ‘parenting’. In the past, many dogs were kept outside the house and not allowed in. Whereas now more people see their pets as a family member. People feel strong connection with their pet, they sleep with dog, do allergy testing for pet, focus more on their diet. Some of my friends also throw birthday party for their dogs and invite guests over.

In recent years, more people choose specific pet following certain trends. For example, Betta Fish or guinea pig went viral for a while. It seems to be a trend to have small and cute pet. For some, pets can also be seen as status symbols, especially if you own a pet of certain colour or breeds. For example, one of my friends spent a fortune to buy a French bulldog of a specific rare colour. These types of dogs are considered as a luxury.

Pet owners now are more connected than ever before through online communities. I connect with many other dog owners on whats app group. People often share dog moments, good products, and also talk about tips and problems as dog parent.

Have you noticed any changes pet care in recent years?

The change in pet culture is slowly influencing the purchasing decisions of pet products. With the rise in income, more people are buying imported pet foods. The pet owners also demand clearly defined clean labels due to increasing health consciousness for their pets. People are paying more attention to food constituent information. As a result, some pet food companies claim transparency in the sourcing and processing of ingredients. As people become progressively more concerned about their own health, particularly in relation to their diet, similar concerns about the diets of their pets are increasing significantly. Furthermore, they highly prefer natural and organic products.

The covid results in a transfer of pet care service from in-store more to home service. Before covid, we used to take the dogs to the groomer once every other week. Now all the pet services are turning to home service, which is great news for pet owners, as the home service is very convenient and still quite affordable.

There are some other small business related to pet care grows. There are 2 ‘dog psychics’ who speak to your dog to help them with their mental health or to discipline them. I don’t really buy into it but there are people using their service.

What’s pet owner’s view towards pet brands?

Nowadays pet owners are more looking for high quality pet food with good ingredient. But the products also need to be accessible in the market. Some premium brands from abroad is quite difficult to buy. For example, Wellness Core, an American brand, is only sold by some individual merchandiser online, costs a lot more here than in the US. Therefore, it’s a bit difficult for average income people. In general, people do relate to western brand with a higher quality and trust them more. Whereas the most popular brands here, Royal Canin, and Pro Plan, they are very accessible and also usually provided by the breeder.

I also noticed that brands are more active on social media nowadays to promote their products. For example, Kin dog food is doing a great job on their Instagram account. Social media nowadays plays a big role in how people finding pets related brands, especially for younger brands.

What advice would you give to a pet care brand if they are coming to Indonesia?

I would definitely suggest the brand to market through veterinary or breeder. Indonesian people trust professional recommendation. This is one of the reasons why Royal Canin doing well here, they collaborate with many breeders. If you got the products from breeder, you might as well stick to it if it works well for your pet.