Ownership up, visits down - DVM
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Ownership up, visits down
Companion-animal visits decline despite an estimated $24.5 billion in U.S. veterinary expenditures, AVMA statistics show


Human-animal bond matters

Figure 2 Total veterinary expenditures for dog-owning households
One such assumption is that an owner's attachment to his or her animal translates to a higher stop-level for care.

That's true, according to the report. In 2006, nearly half of all owners considered their pets to be family members, and 48.2 percent considered their pets to be pets or companions. Dog-and cat-owning households that considered their animals to be family members outspent those who considered their dogs and cats to be pets or companions by 1.7 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. Those same respondents outspent owners who considered their dogs and cats to be property by 3.4 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.

Owners who view their dogs as family members visited the veterinarian three times in 2006, compared to owners who consider their animals to be companions (2.2 visits) and those who label their animals as property (1.1 visits). It's a trend that's mirrored in the cat-owner demographic.

At the same time, a cross reference of human-animal bond and household income shows owners who earn $20,000 a year or less and label their pets as family members spend more on veterinary care than owners earning $85,000 or more and consider their pets to be property.

"That's telling," Flanigan says. "It indicates just how strong the human-animal bond is."

Race factors

That distinction holds true when owners are broken down by race, although black households report animal ownership far less than all other racial and ethnic sectors polled by AVMA.

AVMA numbers show just 26.6 percent of black households own pets compared to 63.1 percent of white households, 57.5 percent of Spanish/Hispanic households and 4.9 percent of Asian households.

It's the first time since AVMA began its demographic study in 1987 that the report has revealed race and ethnicity factors. DeHaven chalks it up to "just another factor of ownership." And when it comes to the human-animal bond, the differences aren't significant, Flanigan says.

White owners view their pets as family members at a rate of 53.7 percent compared to 52.9 percent of Spanish/Hispanic owners, 44.8 percent of black owners and 57 percent of Asian owners. By contrast, no more than 1.6 percent of households in any race and ethnicity category consider their pet to be property, except respondents in black households, which come in at 3.8 percent.

"Yes, that number is two to three times larger in terms of percentage groups, but it's still a very small percentage," Flanigan says. "The reality is that such a small population views their pets as property; it's more important to focus where people are bonded."

Relationships trump advertising

Considering the strength of that bond, it seems logical that relationships would be key to keeping clients, Flanigan says, and the demographic report's numbers prove it.

More than 80 percent of respondents in dog-owning households cited "regular veterinarian" when asked why they chose the practitioner seen at their most recent visit. By comparison, 77.3 percent of cat-owning households cited "regular veterinarian" in 2006.

Location for dog and cat owners came in second at 36.1 percent and 38.3 percent, respectively. Fees ranked 17.1 percent for dog owners followed by hours (15.4 percent) and recommendation (11.0 percent).

Advertising, it turns out, factors little even among owners with no regular veterinarian. Yellow Pages listings and outdoor signs command roughly 1 percent. That number jumps to 3 percent among owners with no regular veterinarian, yet Web sites rank less than 1 percent in both categories for dog and cat subsets.


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