Pet Numbers Still Growing, But May Finally be at Their Glass Ceiling

Despite the recent economic freefall, America’s, pet population continues to rise, according to the just released 2009-2010 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey. The number of dogs increased to 77.5 million (from 75 million when the survey was taken two years ago). Cat numbers exceeded 90 million for the first time, over 93 million pet cats (from 89 million in 2007-2008).

Americans must love their pets; after all twice as many people have a pet compared to the number of families with at least one child under 18 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), 62.4 percent to 31 percent.

Still, it’s interesting while the number of pets has increased, while the number of homes with pets has not risen. Pet lovers are simply adding more pets, at least in some cases.

For example, the number of dog owning households hit an all time high, at 45.6 million. The number of homes with cats remained about the same. Overall, the number of households with pets remained unchanged over the past two years.

Is this a hint that the pet population might be approaching it’s maximum after decades of growth? “That’s a good question, and the truth is that we don’t know,” says Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the APPA. “In my opinion, growth will continue as long as baby boomers continue ‘replacing’ their kids with ‘grandpets.’ And, right now, when the kids go off to college, they might be ‘replaced’ with a pet. But after a few more years, I’m not sure. I know that, according to the data, that pets really haven’t permeated the Hispanic or African American communities as much as they have elsewhere " so I think there remains room to grow.”

The survey also breaks down spending and lots of other information. For example, nearly half of all dogs (46 percent) at least sometimes sleep in the owners’ or a child’s bed. Cats fared even better, at 79 percent sleeping with their people if they felt in the mood.

However, cats didn’t always faire as well as dogs. Among dogs, 66 percent receive flea and/or tick preventatives, only 41 percent of cats benefit from the same protection. When it comes to buying treats, 68 per cent of cats get them regularly, where 88 percent of dogs enjoy special yummies. Vetere notes that these numbers were about equal or up from two years ago, and overall, the economy has played little role in pet care.

However, it seems veterinary visits have been impacted at least some by the economy, and cat visits to the vet pale in comparison to dog health care.

Ten percent of dogs never saw the vet in the past year (up from eight percent); 29 percent saw the veterinarian once (the same as two years ago); 25 percent visited the vet twice (down from 30 percent in the past survey); and 33 percent returned to the vet three times or more (up from 30 percent).

Astoundingly over a quarter of all cats, 27 percent, never saw the veterinarian in the past year; 38 percent of cats visited the veterinarian once; 16 percent were toted to the vet twice and 17 percent three times or more. These cat vet visit numbers are all about the same as two years ago when the last AAPA survey was taken.

Vetere concedes, “Our numbers represent owner answers, so there may be some fudge factor going on, people who feel they should answer a certain way.”

Still this is the only comprehensive pet owner survey of its kind. For whatever reason, ownership of small mammal pets declined 29 percent from two years ago. The number of pot-bellied pigs (defined in this survey as small mammals, though an argument can be made describing them as small) by more than half. Mouse, rat and rabbit numbers also went down. However, there are increases in ferrets and hamsters.

After a two-decade year-by-year increase in households owning reptiles, that trend seems to have leveled off. Iguanas continue to fall in popularity, now only nine percent of owned reptiles (from their 2002 mark of 17 percent). The most popular reptile pet remains turtles/tortoises at 59 percent, followed by various snakes, 18 percent.

Among pet birds parakeets (budgies) fell some in popularity (32 per cent of pet birds), allowing cockatiels to soar into the top place (35 percent), followed by a three-way tie of African Grey Parrots, conures (various species) and lovebirds, all at eight percent.

Vetere says, “Overall, as people have been forced to cut back in many areas, it seems they’re rather not cut back on what they give to their pets. That’s probably because of what their pets give them everyday. Pets don’t critique you or ride your back about not making enough money. Even if you’ve lost your job, your pets will love you.”


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