U.S. pet ownership declines from 2006 to 2011

Dog ownership down a little; cat ownership down more, according to AVMA demographic study.
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Aug 05, 2012

The percentage of pet-owning households declined 2.4 percent over the last five years, according to a study of 50,000 pet owners conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). An Aug. 4 preview of the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, to be released this fall, revealed that the percentage of households owning dogs decreased 1.9 percent, while households owning cats declined 6.2 percent, although cats still outnumber dogs as pets.

Changes in the total number of dogs and cats owned as pets are even more dramatic. There were 69.9 million pet dogs at the end of 2011, a decrease of 3 percent from 72.1 million in 2006, and 74.4 million pet cats in 2011, a decrease of 9.4 percent from 81.7 million in 2006. The decline in the total number of pet dogs and cats in the U.S. from 2006 to 2011 is 6.4 percent.

“Obviously the recession is probably a big reason for this decline,” says Karen Felsted, DVM, MS, CPA, CVPM, president of Felsted Veterinary Consultants and presenter of the data. “But there may be other reasons as well, and we need to find out what those are.”

The study did find that veterinary visits for dogs were up 9.2 percent, but the feline decline has continued, with cat visits down 4.4 percent since 2006. The average number of veterinary visits per dog was 1.6 times per year, while the number of visits per cat was 0.7 times per year. “What I find particularly disturbing is that 45 percent of cat-owning households never visited a veterinary clinic in 2011,” Felsted says. “That’s up dramatically from 35 percent in 2001 and 36 percent in 2011.”

Here are some other study findings presented by Felsted:

• Pet owners spent $28 billion on veterinary care in 2011, with about two-thirds of that spent on dog care, a quarter going toward cat care and the rest spent on other types of pets.

• While there was an increase in expenditures for both dogs and cats from 2006 to 2011, Felsted says mean expenditures per pet were flat with inflation taken into account. Plus, 51 percent of dog owners and 74 percent of cat owners spent less than $200 per year on veterinary care, which Felsted considers the minimum for basic preventive care.

• Six percent of dog owners and 3 percent of cat owners reported that they had insurance for their pets. “I thought this was interesting because it’s higher than the 1 to 2 percent you usually hear quoted,” Felsted says.

• Eighty-six percent and 78 percent of dog owners said their pet was average weight. “Now do you think they’re right?” Felsted asked the audience. “We know from the Banfield State of Pet Health Report that there’s been a 37 percent increase in overweight dogs and and a 90 percent increase in overweight cats. I think their perception may be skewed.”

“So what does all this data mean?” Felsted says. “It means that with fewer potential clients, we need to provide more extensive care. We need to look at our marketing, perception of value and pricing. Plus we need to get back to basics. We’ve talked about the ‘wow’ factor a lot, but a bandana on a dog doesn’t mean much if the client had to wait for 45 minutes in the waiting room.”