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Pet population continues to rise, with fewer pets per household

Both dog and cat populations have increased in recent years, as have the percentages of households that own dogs or cats, but there are fewer pets per household. Animal shelters are a key source of new pet acquisitions, accounting for 40% of cats and 38% of dogs in 2020.

Rosemary Radich, Senior Data Scientist in the AVMA’s Division of Veterinary Economics, presented preliminary results from a recent AVMA survey of more than 2,000 pet owners during “The Market for Pet Owners” session at the Business and Economic Forum AVMA Annual Vet, held virtually in October. 14-16.

The survey, conducted in February and March 2021, asked pet owners about their experiences in 2020. Comparisons were made with the 2017-18 edition of the AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, which was based on data from 2016.

“Population and pet ownership have increased, creating opportunities to improve profitability” in veterinary practices, Radich said. “Understanding pet owners can help improve satisfaction and loyalty so veterinarians can continue to provide quality care.”

Pet populations and adoption.

In 2020, 45% of households owned dogs, up from 38% at the end of 2016. The domestic dog population was estimated to be between 83.7 million and 88.9 million last year, up 9-16% from at the end of 2016. In 2020, 26% of households owned cats, up from 25% at the end of 2016, and the domestic cat population was estimated to be between 60 and 61.9 million last year, compared to the 58.4 million five years ago.

While more people had pets in 2020, they were also more likely to have fewer pets. For example, 65% of households with dogs owned just one dog in 2020, up from 60% at the end of 2016. And 56% of households with cats in 2020 owned just one cat, compared to 53% five years earlier.

While animal shelters and rescues are a key source for new pet acquisitions, 42% of dog owners in 2020 said they purchased their dog from a store, as did 43% of cat owners . However, stores are increasingly offering pets from shelters and rescue centers, which explains why 24% of pet owners indicated that they obtained a pet from both a store and a shelter.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were slightly evident in the results. People who work remotely were eight times more likely to get a new pet in 2020. Other people likely to get a new pet last year were homeowners with a household income of more than $100,000, those who were financially equal or better since the pandemic began, and those under 45 who were married with children.

More time was a reason cited by about two-thirds of married and single respondents for getting a new pet, while companionship was a reason for 55% of respondents who were divorced, separated or widowed.

Radich noted that new pet ownership and reasons for ownership vary by marital status, economy and job markets, and recent changes may not hold up long-term. For example, as COVID-19 restrictions ease and participation in remote work changes, he said, it’s important for veterinarians to remain flexible because previous increases in demand may be temporary and cyclical.

Veterinary visits and expenses

Much has been said about the hustle and bustle of veterinary practices during the pandemic. Contributing to the sense of busyness has not only been the increase in veterinary appointments, but also the irregular flow of patients and clients from the height of the pandemic until now, combined with the COVID-19 disruption to practice operations, the decrease of productivity and higher Rotation.

While many pet owners have seen an increase in wait times, particularly at emergency clinics, only 3% of pet owners reported having to wait four weeks or more to schedule an appointment at clinics overall last year. In fact, 66% of cat owners and 62% of dog owners said they were able to schedule an appointment in less than a week in 2020. And at their appointment, more than 85% of owners waited less than 30 minutes. These figures were not broken down by type of practice, Radich noted. Additionally, the survey was conducted in early 2021 and asked respondents about their last visit, which was likely to have occurred in 2020.

Of owners who did not visit a veterinarian in the past two years, 28% said the main reason was that their pet did not get sick or injured, 26% said their pet did not need vaccinations, 18% said they got shots or take care of themselves, and 9% said they didn’t have the money.

When asked for reasons for choosing a medication supplier, 59% of respondents said they trust their veterinarian when it comes to expertise, but 68% cited availability as a reason for choosing a pet supply store . Meanwhile, price was heavily cited by 54% as a reason for choosing an online provider or any type of store.

“Offices offer ongoing care, and when veterinarians offer medications, they (pet owners) can see it as an extension of the experience,” Radich said.

He added that medications can be a key revenue stream because pet owners spend a significant percentage of their budget on veterinary care, and medications account for a large percentage of care costs.

The AVMA will make more information from the recent survey available in 2022, including information on pet owner satisfaction and loyalty.

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