By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
SAN DIEGO, CA -- Pet ownership is on the decline. On Aug. 3, during the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Convention here, Dr. Karen Felsted revealed new data from the soon-to-be-released 2012 AVMA Pet Demographic Sourcebook (based on data collected in 2011). This pet census polls over 50,000 American households every five years. While cats remain America's most popular pets, they've taken a hit in popularity for the first time since the survey was initiated in 1983.
There are now 74.1 million pet cats in the U.S., a decline of over 9 percent from when the survey was last conducted in 2006. Dogs aren't exactly having their day; their numbers also went do down, dropping 3 percent. The survey indicates there are 69.9 million pet dogs in America.
It's interesting to note the enormous change in culture, even since 1983. In that first AVMA survey, there were 55.6 million dogs, and 52.2 million cats in America. Cats took over in 1987 as America's most popular pet and they haven't looked back.
The number of pet birds in the U.S. totally crash landed in this most recent survey, falling about 26 percent from five years ago to 8.3 million. The horse population also took a hit, down about 33 percent to 4.9 million compared to 2006.
Why the decline in the pet population?
"The economy plays a significant role. Beyond that, it's simply conjecture," said Felsted, of Felsted Veterinary Consultants, Richardson, TX. Certainly, it should come as no surprise that the survey indicates the number of households with at least one pet has dropped just over 2 percent since 2006.
With recent reports of drops in veterinary visits for all pets, it's good to see that in the new survey, veterinary visits for dogs actually increased just over 9 percent over 2006.
However, cats are now clearly lagging behind in several ways. For starters, vet visits for cats are down over 4 percent from 2006. In fact, nearly half of all pet cats didn't even see a veterinarian in 2011, according to the survey.
The AVMA survey indicates two-thirds of all cat owners understand the importance of preventive care checkups, which is far higher than other industry reports. If this statistic is accurate, however, many owners are clearly not seeing a veterinarian unless their pet is ill. Unfortunately, not all owners may recognize when a cat is sick, since cats are so adept at masking illness.
Despite not visiting the veterinarian, nearly 80 percent of dog and cat owners maintain that they're happy with the services their veterinarian supplies, and pleased with the facility and clinic staff, according to the survey. At the same time, pet owners are increasingly receiving information about pet health from elsewhere, most often the Internet.
While pets in many European countries are insured, pet insurance is gradually catching on in the U.S. According to the survey, 6 percent of dogs and 9 percent of horses are now insured. Cats continue to lag behind here, too, with only 3 percent are insured.
Additional results from the 2012 AVMA Pet Demographic Sourcebook are expected to be available this fall.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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