Ownership up, visits down

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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
Feb 01, 2008

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — New graduates entering practice might see fewer patients than their predecessors if recent American Veterinary Medical Association research holds true.

According to AVMA's "U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook," dog-and cat-owning households visited veterinarians less in 2006 than in 2001, while the number of U.S. households with pets grew to 68.7 million in 2006, a 12.4 percent increase from 2001.

Canine ownership jumped 13.8 percent during that five-year span, yet dog-owning households visited the veterinarian, on average, 2.6 times a year in 2006, down 3.7 percent from 2001. Numbers of feline visits fared worse, falling 5.6 percent since 2001, despite 5.3 million more cat-owning households reported in the United States.

The numbers are considered disturbing to some in the veterinary profession. The 159-page demographic report, issued every five years, is derived from a questionnaire mailed to 80,000 randomly selected U.S. households. Nearly 48,000 surveys were completed, returned and tallied. The results have prompted the American Association Feline Veterinarians (AAFP) to launch the CATalyst Summit, a meeting scheduled for early February charged with exploring how to reverse the downward trend.

Veterinarians are alarmed, AAFP member Dr. William Folger says. While the Houston-based feline specialist contends he isn't feeling the crunch, he doesn't dispute the AVMA's statistics.

"This report has sent reverberations all throughout our profession," Folger says. "We have the figures, now we want to know what's behind them. It's possible that it's our three-year vaccine protocols. I'm not sure it's not a reflection the economy. We really don't know what's to blame."

Wider wallets

The smaller number of visits per household doesn't mean dog and cat owners are spending less, with the average veterinary expenditure per household totaling $366 in 2006. Total veterinary expenditures for all household pets reached an estimated $24.5 billion in 2006, up $5.5 billion since 2001, and $13.4 billion since 1996.

Roughly two-thirds of pet-owning households owned more than one animal in 2006, and nearly half considered their pets to be family members.

More pets translates to more visits overall, AVMA numbers reveal, although five of the top 10 pet-owning states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) are in the Northwest, a region not known for DVM-dense areas.

Significance

Still, dog and cat visits represent 61.9 percent and 32.8 percent of all veterinary visits, respectively, while exotics and specialty animals make up just 2.4 percent of all visits, and horses come in at 2.2 percent while birds total 0.7 percent.

Considering the breakdown, it's no wonder the decline in dog and cat visits has resonated in a profession comprised mostly of small-animal veterinarians.


Figure 1 Distribution of pet-owning households by veterinary expenditures, 2006
In 2006, 77.7 percent of pet-owning households made at least one trip to the DVM, with 27 percent making four or more visits. That leaves 22.3 percent of pets without veterinary care (Figure 1).

"That a significant number," AVMA Marketing Director James Flanigan says.

It's an area of concern that needs more evaluation, adds Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA executive vice president.

"The purpose of this study was to find the trends, not in-depth analysis," he says. "These numbers have confirmed a lot of things we've assumed for a long time."