More than half of U.S. households owned pets at year-end 2011, and three-quarters of these pet-owning households made at least one visit to the veterinarian during 2011.
By contrast, the presidents of the AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, and American Association of Feline Practitioners suggest that every pet have at least one veterinary visit annually for preventive care.
The new data appear in the 2012 edition of the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, now available from the AVMA. The book draws on a 2012 survey of more than 50,000 households and on data from previous editions.
The report has provided a comprehensive picture approximately every five years since 1983 of the ownership and veterinary care of cats, dogs, and other pets.
At year-end 2011, 56.0 percent of households owned pets, down from 57.4 percent at year-end 2006.
More households owned dogs than cats in 2011, but cat-owning households had a mean of 2.1 cats while dog-owning households had a mean of 1.6 dogs.
The population of pet cats decreased from 81.7 million at year-end 2006 to 74.1 million at year-end 2011, and the population of pet dogs decreased from 72.1 million to 69.9 million over the same period.
Dr. Roy Brenton Smith, AAFP president, did not expect to see a decrease in cat ownership.
“I think the economy has something to do with it. And people’s lifestyles have changed a lot, too, since I first started practice,” said Dr. Smith, who started practice in 1962. “But, of course, some of ... their lifestyle change now is more conducive for them to have cats than to have dogs because they can be gone all day and not have to worry about coming home and taking the dog out.”
Among pet owners, 63.2 percent considered their pets to be family members. Another 35.8 percent considered their pets to be pets or companions. The remaining 1 percent considered their pets to be property.
“The human-animal bond is stronger than ever, but we are very concerned that pets may not be getting the preventive health care they need,” said Dr. Douglas G. Aspros, AVMA president.
Among cat owners, 44.9 percent did not take their cat or cats to a veterinarian during 2011, up from 36.3 percent in 2006. Among dog owners, 18.7 percent did not take their dog or dogs to a veterinarian during 2011, up from 17.3 percent in 2006.
The primary reason that cat and dog owners gave for not visiting a veterinarian during 2011 was that their pets did not get sick or injured.
“What is most perplexing is that so many dog and cat owners understand that routine check-ups and preventive health care are important for their pets,” Dr. Aspros said. “Nearly 90 percent of dog owners and 75 percent of cat owners surveyed indicated that routine check-ups and preventive care are either very or somewhat important.”
Dr. Mark Russak, AAHA president, pointed to the efforts of the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare to promote the value of preventive care for dogs and cats. The partnership’s members are the AVMA, AAHA, AAFP, other veterinary associations, animal health companies, and other organizations.
Another 21.5 percent of cat owners and 29.3 percent of dog owners who did not visit a veterinarian said they could not afford it.
“The affordability factor is critical,” Dr. Russak said. “And I think if we make it more affordable for clients, then they’re going to tend to bring the animals in.”
Dr. Russak listed pet insurance, wellness plans, and credit as ways to make veterinary care more affordable. Among dog owners, 5.7 percent had insurance for their dogs in 2011. Among cat owners, 2.6 percent had insurance for their cats.
Despite the number of pet owners who did not visit a veterinarian, total veterinary visits increased from 193.0 million in 2006 to 202.4 million in 2011. Total veterinary visits for dogs increased from 119.4 million to 130.4 million, and mean number of veterinary visits per dog increased from 1.5 to 1.6.
Total veterinary visits for cats decreased from 63.3 million to 60.5 million, but mean number of veterinary visits per cat stayed constant at 0.7 because the population of cats decreased.
The care of cats
Data from the 2007 edition of the demographics sourcebook contributed to the current movement in the veterinary profession to address the disparity between cats and dogs in veterinary care.
Shortly after the release of the 2007 report, a group of organizations held a summit that led to the formation of the CATalyst Council to advocate for feline health and welfare. Recently, the AAFP and CATalyst Council have created programs to help practices become cat-friendly, among other efforts to improve the care of cats.
In September 2012, the AAFP announced a partnership with Bayer HealthCare LLC to uncover and remove obstacles to routine veterinary visits for cats.
The Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare also has an objective to make preventive care for cats a priority.
The 2012 sourcebook reveals that total veterinary expenditures for all pets increased from $24.5 billion during 2006 to $28.0 bil-lion during 2011, an increase of 14.3 percent, as the Consumer Price Index increased 11.6 percent.
The Great Recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, although unemployment remains high.
“In 50 years, this is the first time in my practice I have really felt the effect of the economy,” Dr. Smith said. “But I see it coming back—slowly, but it’s coming back.”
The mean veterinary expenditure per cat increased from $81 during 2006 to $90 during 2011, and the mean expenditure per dog increased from $200 to $227.
Cat and dog owners reported that physical examinations and vaccinations were the top veterinary services or products provided at their most recent veterinary visit. Rounding out the top five services or products were laboratory tests, drugs or medications, and flea or tick products.
Income for pet-owning households was only slightly higher than income for all households.
For pet-owning households, veterinary expenditures increased in relation to income.
“Shouldn’t that number be the same, straight across the board?” Dr. Russak asked. “We are charging what we should be charging, but nobody ever explained to the pet-owning public why we’re worth it.”
He said the veterinary profession needs to improve marketing and customer service while finding ways to help clients afford care.
Many more details about the demographics of pet owners are available from the sourcebook.
Families continue to be more likely to own pets than nonfamily households are, with 66.4 percent of families owning pets sometime during 2011. Nevertheless, pet ownership among nonfamily households increased from 46.9 percent during 2006 to 54.7 percent during 2011.
Pet ownership was higher among people who lived in a larger household, worked full time, owned a home, and lived in a smaller community. Pet ownership was lower among people with an advanced degree beyond college.
White respondents were most likely to own pets in 2011 (65.6 percent), followed by respondents in the Spanish/Hispanic category (62.5 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander/American Indian/Aleut Eskimo category (47.7 percent) and Black/African-American category (32.7 percent).
Beyond cats and dogs
The sourcebook also offers details about the ownership and veterinary care of pets other than cats and dogs: pet birds, horses that owners categorize as pets, and specialty and exotic pets.
The population of pet birds decreased from 11.2 million to 8.3 million between year-end 2006 and year-end 2011. Just 12.4 percent of bird owners took their bird or birds to a veterinarian during 2011.
The population of pet horses decreased from 7.3 million to 4.9 million. Among horse owners, 53.8 percent had veterinary visits for their horse or horses during 2011.
The percentage of households that own specialty and exotic pets decreased from 12.7 percent to 10.6 percent. Popular pets included fish, rabbits, turtles, hamsters, and guinea pigs. Households that owned specialty and exotic pets had a mean of 0.4 veterinary visits for those pets during 2011.
Many households own pets in more than one of the categories of cats, dogs, birds, horses, and specialty and exotic pets. Of pet-owning households, 15.3 percent own a combination of cats and dogs, while 25.5 percent own other combinations of pets. Dr. Russak sees an opportunity for veterinarians to work more with animals other than cats and dogs.
The AVMA has released the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook in book form and as a downloadable PDF file. The report is available for purchase through the AVMA Store by visiting www.avma.org/products, then clicking on “Market Research Reports,” or by calling (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6655.