New report takes a deep dive into pet ownership

Updated June 22, 2022

Understanding the various types of pet owners can help veterinary practices increase engagement and loyalty with their client base, according to the 2022 AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. Rosemary Radich, principal data scientist in the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, said, “We wanted to dive deeper into the mindset of pet owners in a way that helps our members.”

The report draws on a survey of more than 2,000 pet owners conducted in early 2021, and the data are reflective of 2020. Comparisons were made with the 2017-18 edition of the AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, which drew on data from 2016.

Young man sitting on sofa with his dog

The survey found moderate increases to the populations of owned cats and dogs and the percentages of households owning dogs or cats, while the number of dogs and cats per household decreased.

Households spent a mean of $354 in 2020 on veterinary care, as measured by veterinary services plus medications, which was 33% of total spending on household pets.

“(Concerns about) value and affordability were the primary reasons for not seeing a veterinarian, which is in line with previous research,” Radich said. “Although convenience and location are important, they are not the top predictors or drivers for regular care. Focusing on communicating the value of veterinary care and providing affordable options are going to be more successful at moving the needle for regular care.”

Households with annual incomes of more than $75,000 were most likely to own pets. People who lived in houses or mobile homes were more likely than apartment dwellers to own dogs, while cat ownership did not vary significantly by type of residence.

“The idea that home ownership and income impact pet ownership is really a key finding because changes in the overall U.S. economy can have big impacts on home ownership and income,” Radich said.

Radich said pet owners vary in their beliefs, values, and spending habits. To explore these differences, pet owners were clustered into five segments, which were characterized as follows:

  • Regarding veterinary care, pet pamperers would say, “My pets are my world, so I value high-quality service.”
  • Pet owners in the enthusiastic families group would say, “Convenient location and hours are great for my busy family, but overall value is most important to me.”
  • Pet owners in the low-key and child-free group would say, “My pet is a close family member, so I want quality services at the right price point.”
  • Occupied owners would say, “I may not take my pet to the veterinarian each year, but when I do, I want my pet cared for with quality services and by knowledgeable staff members.”
  • Pet owners in the casual caretakers group would say, “My family has several pets to care for, so when we go to the veterinarian, we need valuable services at the right price.”

Pet pamperers spent the most money in 2020 at the veterinarian, around $490. Casual caretakers spent the least, around $138.

African American senior woman petting her Golden Retriever

“Not all pet owners are the same,” Radich said. “Drive loyalty and satisfaction by communicating value in a way that resonates for your clients.”

Most pet owners were satisfied with their veterinary visits, with 60% extremely satisfied and 30% somewhat satisfied.

The most important indicators of whether clients will switch veterinary practices were the quality of services and the knowledge of staff members. Convenience, price, hours, and wait time were not as influential as predictors for most clients.

The 2022 AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook is available from the AVMA Store. The report PDF is free for AVMA members. The print and PDF versions together are $80 for AVMA members and $180 for nonmembers.

Materials from the AVMA’s Language of Veterinary Care Initiative are available now, including the webinar “Talking With Clients: Language Do’s and Don’ts.”