(NEW YORK) October 3, 2000 — It’s a great time to be an American pet … or is it?

A new survey shows that while pet owners are lavishing unprecedented affection on their dogs and cats, their perceptions of animal health, welfare and behavior issues are significantly out of sync with reality.

The State of the American Pet, a national survey of dog and cat owners, was conducted by Yankelovich Partners on behalf of the Healthy Pets 21 Consortium (HP21), a think tank initiated by the Purina Pet Institute that includes some of the foremost leaders in the pet health and welfare community.

The research makes it clear that owners are very committed to their animals. They take their dogs and cats shopping, to restaurants and on vacation. They give them respect, love and hours of attention.

But other findings prompt concerns for America’s 120 million dogs and cats:

  • Owners see their pets’ health as good, yet veterinarians report there may be disparities.
  • Though owners say their pets are well behaved, when probed further, they cite numerous behavioral issues ranging from scratching furniture to soiling in the house.
  • Pet owners are concerned about pet overpopulation, yet many do not act consistently to help reduce the problem.

Check Up and Check Out The Scale

While 97 percent of owners describe their pets’ overall health as very or fairly good, 56 percent of dog owners and 51 percent of cat owners list specific health problems they experienced with their pet. And when their pets have a health problem, only one out of three owners take their pets to the veterinarian for treatment.

Moreover, though obesity among dogs and cats is a leading nutritional disease with potentially serious health consequences, more than 80 percent of pet owners think their pets are the right weight or underweight. However, veterinarians report at least 25 percent of the pets they examine in private practice are overweight. This has the Healthy Pets 21 Consortium wondering if pet owners are attuned to their pets’ proper weight.

“Most pet owners think a few extra pounds on a dog or cat is nothing to worry about,” says Aine McCarthy, DVM, HP21 Consortium representative from Ralston Purina. “In reality, two extra pounds on a standard-size cat is like 20 extra pounds on a 120-pound human. Extra weight on pets may be dangerous and can lead to heart, digestive and respiratory problems.”

Who’s In The Dog House?

Pet owners report their dogs and cats are well behaved, but are they turning a blind eye? Almost all pet owners (97 percent) say their pets are very or fairly well behaved. However, when asked about specific behavior problems they experience, 85 percent of dog owners and 82 percent of cat owners list issues ranging from jumping on people or growling to scratching furniture or soiling in the house.

When owners were asked whether their pet’s greatest behavior problem was solved, just 21 percent of dog owners and 30 percent of cat owners said their pet’s negative behavior was resolved.

The Healthy Pets 21 Consortium worries these results might indicate that pet owners overlook negative behavior because of the close bond they share with their pet. Or, perhaps they accept bad behavior because they don’t understand proper pet behavior.

For whatever reason, owners are passive about their pets’ behavioral issues. In fact, 18 percent of dog owners and 24 percent of cat owners said they did nothing about their pets’ negative behavior, and only one out of every five dog owners has ever taken their dog to obedience training. In addition, of those who have surrendered a pet, 14 percent of dog owners and five percent of cat owners have done so due to behavioral problems.

“First owners need to recognize their pets’ unwanted behavior as a problem and understand that the negative behavior can be improved or prevented by consulting with knowledgeable trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians,” says R.K. Anderson, DVM, HP21 Consortium representative from CENSHARE. “This is essential not only because unwanted behaviors fracture the bond between owners and their pets, but they also can signal a health problem for which owners should see their veterinarians. Animals seek our approval and it is the responsibility of owners – and a sign of their compassion – to help their pets learn how that approval can best be earned.”

Dr. Anderson also notes that while many people are reluctant to train their pets, requiring appropriate behavior actually strengthens the human/animal bond.

“Not only can the unwanted behaviors fracture the bond between owners and their pets, but they also can signal a health problem for which they should see their veterinarian,”
says Anderson.

Practice What You Preach

Perhaps the most surprising contradiction between pet owners’ perceptions and reality is their concern for our country’s pets. More than half of dog owners (56 percent) and nearly two-thirds of cat owners (64 percent) rank the pet overpopulation problem as their greatest concern. Unfortunately, it appears some pet owners don’t practice what they preach. Although three out of four pet owners said their pets are spayed or neutered, twenty-five percent report they have not had their pets fixed and fewer than 15 percent acquired their pets from shelters.

What is even more surprising among those who have not had their pets spayed or neutered, is the top reason cited by one in three owners — “they simply haven’t bothered to do it yet.”

“We applaud those pet owners who have adopted pets from shelters and spayed or neutered their pets. Their actions play a critical role in reducing the number of animals that are homeless, living in shelters or euthanized each year,” says Jane McCall, HP21 Consortium representative from the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators. “A cat or dog who has babies, and whose babies have babies, can be responsible for the birth of 50 to 200 kittens or puppies in just one year.”

Setting the Pet Health Agenda

The Healthy Pets 21 Consortium is an initiative of Ralston Purina’s newly formed Purina Pet Institute. Its mission is to champion improved health and well-being for our nation’s dogs and cats, and the quality of their relationships with people. Based on the survey findings, the Healthy Pets 21 Consortium has established an agenda addressing issues in the areas of pet health, behavior and welfare. The Consortium will specifically
look into research, education and public policy to promote responsible pet ownership; raise awareness of pet issues; communicate the benefits of relationships between people and companion animals; and promote a more pet-friendly society.

The Consortium’s charter members are the AKC Canine Health Foundation, American Animal Hospital Association, CENSHARE (Center to Study Human-Animal Relationships and Environments), Delta Society, Society of Animal Welfare Administrators, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Ralston Purina.

Share Your Pet Point of View

Pet owners can compare their views to those of other pet owners and learn more about The State of the American Pet by logging onto

Yankelovich Partners, Inc., a premier international market research firm headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, conducted the survey with a nationally projectable sample of pet owners consisting of 1,001 dog owners and 1,000 cat owners. This sample did not include dog or cat breeders; veterinarians; or animal hospital, kennel or shelter employees. The telephone interviews were conducted via random digit dialing between August 3 and August 23, 2000.



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