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Defining Pets in the 18th and 21st Centuries: Pets as Consumers

Array ( [0] => ENGL 6330 Spring 2018 [1] => no-show [2] => student exhibit )

Pet keeping in America is also characterized by its commercial nature.

—Katherine Grier, Pets in America: A History, 15.

Products of the Eighteenth Century

Extravagant pet-related purchases are not relegated to the twenty-first century. Just as human consumer markets grew in the eighteenth-century, so too did animal-centric industries, for as Tague argues this period saw the development of a consumer culture around pet keeping, including the rise of specialized animal vendors and a market for pet-related products and accessories (15)”[4]. Peddlers and shops of the era catered to discerning pet owners. Newspapers advertising animals for sale identified the seller’s location as aptly-named shops including “the Noah’s Ark”[5] or “the Parrot in Oxford-Road”[6]. Apart from animals, these shops and dealers sold pet products including dog collars, chains for monkeys and squirrels, stands and cages for birds, and even clothing for monkeys (41-42)[4]. While specialty pet foods did not appear on the market until later, unique notions of feeding pets did exist. Whereas working animals lived off refuse food, pets were given table-scraps or milk and bread (38)[4].References to these products and notions appear in various types of period literature.

A portrait of the Francis Coventry’s fictional lapdog Pompey, the Little (1751)
Pompey wearing his diamond-studded collar5


Pompey, the titular lapdog in Francis Coventry’s Pompey the Little (1751), is presented “with a collar studded with diamonds”[7]. While this scene is fictional in depiction, collars of the eighteenth-century ranged from those made of rough leather, discarded by harness makers, to those of fine brass. 

A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (Henry Pelham)
A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (Henry Pelham) (1765)
Oil Painting by John Singleton Copley6


In Eliza Haywood’s Betsy Thoughtless, Mr. Trueworth gifts Betsy a squirrel that was “doubtless, the most beautiful creature of its kind, that could be purchased” with a “chain . . . [of] gold, the links [of which were] very thick, and curiously wrought.”[8] Chains prevented squirrels from speedily making off and also gave monkeys freedom of movement while prohibiting their proclivity for wreaking havoc (40)[4].

Portrait of Alexandrine Le Normant d'Étiolles, playing with a Goldfinch
Portrait of Alexandrine Le Normant d'Étiolles, playing with a Goldfinch (1749)
Oil Painting by Francois Boucher7






Pet birds perched on stands or lived in cages. A notice in a 1762 edition of The Public Advertiser makes a note of the death of one "Mr. Stephen Brinn, a bird-cage-maker of very great business"[9]. Another entry in The Public Advertiser from 1772 advertises an auction wherein "a Bamboo birdcage" is listed among the items going under the hammer [10]. Such cages also appear in works of fiction. Robinson Crusoe notes that at one point he “was taken up in the weighty Affair of making a Cage for my Poll[11].

The Branle from Monkey Antics or Different Actions of Human Life Represented by Monkeys
Monkeys wearing clothes and dancing the Branle8


In 1757, one William James promoted in The Public Advertiser that his “mangery” has “two Monkies both tame,…with three different Suits of Cloaths.”[12] Likewise, in his memoir, Tate Wilkinson describes one Mrs. Bellamy as having “never less than three or four monkeys dressed in regimentals, or as fine ladies and gentlemen”[13].

Houyhnhnm brings Gulliver a tray of oats as a Yahoo watches on
Houyhnhnm bringing Gulliver a tray of oats
as a Yahoo eats9


As a pet among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels (1726), does not eat the food reserved for the Yahoos. As working animals, the Yahoos “feed[ing] upon roots, and the flesh of some animals, which I afterwards found to be that of asses and dogs, and now and then a cow dead by accident or disease” (22). Instead, Gulliver is given “a large bowl full” of his master’s milk “of which I drank very heartily”(26) and oats which he “ground and beat them between two stones, then took water, and made them into a paste or cake, which I toasted at the fire, and eat warm with milk” (29-30) [14].

A beloved pet dog receives an enema
A beloved pet dog receives an enema
Line engraving by de Launay the younger10 

Eighteenth-Century Services

During this time, pets were also privy to specialty medical provided by dog doctors. These doctors initially treated valuable working class dogs, but soon catered to pets (40) [4]. Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1762) and Humphry Clinker (1771), as well as Francis Coventry’s Cecilia (1782) all make references to the profession.

Because of their perceived uselessness and the unnecessarily exorbitant expenditures made on their behalf, “many people were horrified by what they saw as a wasteful extravagance. Material and emotional resources that should have been devoted to humans, in this view, were diverted to the care of creatures God had intended to serve humans as labor or food. Pet keeping was at best a useless luxury; at worst, it was actually sinful (2) [4].


[1] “U.S. Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook.” Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics, American Pet Products Association, www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.

[2] Pet Business. "Leading Pet Specialty Chains in North America in 2016, Based on Number of Stores*." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista, www.statista.com/statistics/253896/leading-north-american-pet-specialty-chains-by-number-of-stores/, Accessed 20 Apr 2018.

[3] 2016 Annual Report. American Veterinary Medical Association, 2016, 3.

[4] Tague, Ingrid H. Animal Companions: Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

[5] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 6 Dec. 1765, p. 3. Newspapers.com.

[6] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 18 Jun. 1762, p. 4. Newspapers.com.

[7] Coventry, Francis. The History of Pompey the Little: or, the Life and Adventures of a Lap-Dog. Second ed., M. Cooper, at the Globe in Paternoster-Row, 1751, 15. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

[8] Haywood, Eliza. The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. Vol. 1, Oliver Nelson, at Milton's-Head in Skinner-Row, 1751, 138. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

[9] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 22 Mar. 1762, p. 3. Newspapers.com.

[10] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 9 Apr. 1772, p. 3. Newspapers.com.

[11] Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner. Second ed., 1719, 134. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

[12] “The Public Advertiser.” The Public Advertiser, 11 Mar. 1757.

[13] Wilkinson, Tate. Memoirs of His Own Life. Vol. 3, Wilson, Spence, and Mawman, 1790, 214-215.

[14] Johnathan Swift. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. Vol. 2, Benj. Motte, at the Middle Temple-Gate in Fleet-Street, 1726, 29-30. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

Image Credits

1 Organikjenny. “In Store Display.” Wikimedia Commons, 24 Apr. 2015, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kriser%27s_Natural_Pet_Store.jpg.

2 Berkshirehumane. “Our Pet Food Pantry Supplies Free Food for Families in Need for up to Six Months.” Wikimedia Commons, 16 Apr. 2016, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DogWithFood.png.

3 Edward. “Bella & Daisy’s Dog Bakery, Boutique, Daycare, and Grooming.” Wikimedia Commons, 26 Oct. 2008, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bella_%26_Daisy%E2%80%99s_Dog_bakery,_boutique,_daycare,_and_grooming,_San_Francisco.jpg.

4 Stoltz, Christopher. “Andrew Bradley DVM Performing a Checkup on a Dog.” Maxwell Air Force Base, 16 Nov. 2012, www.maxwell.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000095968/.

5 “Portrait of Pompey the Little.” Eighteenth Century Collections Online, find.galegroup.com.dist.lib.usu.edu/ecco/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=ECCO&userGroupName=utahstate&tabID=T001&docId=CW3314849854&type=multipage&contentSet=ECCOArticles&version=1.0&docLevel=FASCIMILE.

6Copley, John Singleton. “A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (Henry Pelham).” Wikimedia Commons, 17 Oct. 2012, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Singleton_Copley_-_A_Boy_with_a_Flying_Squirrel_(Henry_Pelham)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

7 Boucher, Francois. “Portrait of Alexandrine Le Normant D'Étiolles, Playing with a Goldfinch.” Wikimedia Commons, 20 Aug. 2001, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Alexandrine_Le_Normant_d%27%C3%89tiolles_(daughter_of_Madame_de_Pompadour),_playing_with_a_Goldfinch.jpg.

8 “Le Branle.” Wikimedia Commons, 9 Dec. 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bound_Print,_Plate_12,_Le_Branle_(The_Branle),_Singeries_ou_diff%C3%A9rentes_actions_de_la_vie_humaine_repr%C3%A9sent%C3%A9es_par_des_singes_(Monkey_Antics_or_Different_Actions_of_Human_Life_Represented_by_Monkeys),_(CH_18250439).jpg.

9 Swift, Dean. Illustration from Gulliver's travels into several remote regions of the world.1800-1899. BOOK COLL 10 L5-127. Book Collections. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, Logan, Utah.

10 De Delaunay, Nicolas. “A Beloved Pet Dog Receives an Enema.” Wikimedia Commons, 29 Oct. 2014, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_beloved_pet_dog_receives_an_enema._Line_engraving_by_de_La_Wellcome_V0011671.jpg.