If you’re reading this column, odds are that you have a pet. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 2001 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, 58.3 percent of all American households have at least one pet.
This column received an exclusive advance copy of the 2001 AVMA statistical sourcebook. The last AVMA pet census was tallied in 1996, and before that in 1991.
The 2001 survey is summed up by Dr. Joe Howell, Oklahoma City, OK-based president of the AVMA, “There have never been so many pets in America’s history as there are now, and those pets are living longer and healthier lives.”
Cats continue to be ‘man’s best friend.’ The shocking truth is that cats overtook dogs in popularity more than 25 years ago. The 2001 survey indicates there are now 68.9 million cats. This is a significant increase from the previous record high of 59.1 million cats reported in the 1996 sourcebook. For the first time ever, dogs have broken past 60 million, with 61.6 million canine companions. That’s an increase over 52.9 million dogs counted in the ’96 report.
Despite, their numbers, it seems that dogs still enjoy better veterinary care. Cat owning households are less likely than dog owning households to visit the vet annually. About a third (34.7 percent) of all cat owning households did not visit a vet over the course of one year. Exactly one quarter of all cat owners visited the vet once. However, that compares to 83 percent of dog owners who took Fido to bark at the vet at least once a year.
Both the cat and dog populations are aging. Going way back to the 1987 sourcebook, less than a third of all cats and all dogs were over 6 years old, and only 15 percent of birds were over 6 years old. Today (according to the 2001 sourcebook), nearly one-half of all dogs and cats, and a third of the pet birds are over 6 years old.
Howell attributes the aging pet population to several factors. Most notably, preventative health care, better nutrition and more people keeping their cats indoors help them to live longer. Over the past five to ten years there’s been an increase in shelter and rescue group adoptions of adult pets (as opposed to only puppies and kittens). Also, those birds purchased during the huge influx in the mid-1990’s are now over six.
Howell also mentioned that cutting edge veterinary specialty medicine is more available than ever; and pet owners are more likely to spend big dollars to do what it takes to save Fido or Fluffy. Indeed, pet owners are spending more than ever on their companions with four legs and feathers. On all types of veterinary services combined (included in this number are medical treatments, and anything else spent at vet offices, including boarding and medications), pet owners now spend $19 billion annually; that’s nearly doubled from 11.1 billion in 1996.
Not only are these pets living longer, there are more of them per household. Most homes in America have a pet, and 60 percent of those households now believe that pets are like potato chips; you can’t have merely one.
What’s more, this survey clobbers that myth about feuding cats and dogs. The latest trend is dogs and cats living together without a need for Jimmy Carter to make peace. About 40 percent of dog homes now include at least one resident kitty (and visa versa).
Ferrets continue to be among the trendiest kinds of pets. In 1996, there were 791,000 of these curious critters, there are now 991,000. Rabbit numbers remained pretty much unchanged since the ’96 survey; there are 4.8 million pet rabbits. For most of this survey period, the economy was still very good ” perhaps explaining the increase in horse numbers (since horses are expensive to maintain), from 4 million in 1996 to their current 5.1 million.
Howell credits the dinosaur craze of the late 1990’s and the popularity of the Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin) movie, for the significant increase in reptile ownership. Various species of turtles, snakes and lizards combined slithered up to 2.8 million in ’01, up from 2 million in ’96. However, the new reptile owners aren’t all kids. Reptiles aren’t a very cuddly alternative to a dog or cat, but they do offer a reminder of the natural world in an increasingly concrete world.
However, hamsters have paid a price. The little guys just aren’t as popular, falling from 1.3 million in ’96 to their current standing at just under a million. Guinea pigs also fell slightly in popularity. Presumably, these cute mammals lost out in the reptile craze.
The AVMA 2001 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook is based on surveys completed by over 54,000 individuals representing all 50 states.
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