Before I delve into the meat and potatoes of this post, let’s get one thing out of the way. If you’re expecting to find a bias here, you won’t. This particular corner of the Internet may not be “Simply for Cats,” but I have no bias against cats. In fact, regular readers know that my first pet when I moved away from my parents’ home was a cat, and that I was very partial to him and heartbroken when he died.
The purpose of this post is simply to take a look at dog and cat ownership throughout the United States. I’m also not going to delve much into the psychology of dog people versus to cat people, having already done that in Dog People and Cat People – They Really are Different!
Here, we’re going to be looking mainly at the numbers – what segment of the population has, or has had, dogs and cats. We’ll also look at how much time we spend with our dogs and cats, how much money we spend on them, and we’ll even take a brief look at the role pets other than cats and dogs play in the life of Americans today. Don’t doubt for a minute, though, that dogs and cats both play a huge role. Americans are pet people, and if you’ve ever doubted that at all, those doubts will be put to rest when you look at the following material.
Who Has Pets?
The answer to this question is clearly “Most of us.” 62% of people living in the United States right now have pets. Note the wording on the graph, though – it’s “Do you currently have a pet,” not “Do you currently want a pet.”
Obviously, there could be any number of people who would love to have a pet, but whose life circumstances right now prohibit pet ownership. Money issues, housing issues, employment instability and other issues can all make pet ownership problematic. This figure represents the people that are able to have pets – not necessarily the percentage of people who might love to have a pet, but can’t for one reason or another.
So, who are we? Who are the pet people? Let’s take a look.
62% of Americans have pets. 38% do not. Given that there are people whose current circumstances make it difficult or impossible for them to have pets, that tells us that a huge majority of people would likely be pet owners if they could.
What Kind of Pets Do We Have?
You only have to take a quick look at this graph to discover that we own pets in a huge way.
Number of pets in the United States in 2017/2018, by species (in millions)
Now, if I asked you what kind of pets Americans are most likely to own, you’d probably tell me “dogs.” And you’d probably be right – but here, we’re not looking at the most likely pet, but the most owned pet by numbers, and it’s fish!
Why is that?
Well, it’s because hardly anyone owns just one fish. Fish are typically kept in groups, in community tanks, at the rate of about an inch of fish per gallon. In other words, in even the smallest aquarium (about 10 gallons), 10 or more fish might be kept. The smaller the fish, the more fish the tank can support.
So, it’s not that people prefer fish as pets. It’s just that one tank can support a lot of fish, usually. Imagine 10 dogs in one house – it doesn’t usually happen. And crazy cat ladies notwithstanding, it doesn’t usually happen with cats either. So fish have the numbers in volume, but not when it comes to individual ownership.
What About Individual Households?
Americans have always been pet owners, and from the following graph, we can see that things have held pretty steady over the years.
Household penetration rates for pet-ownership in the United States from 1988 to 2017
The incline has been slow but steady, peaking in 2013, dropping a bit in 2015, and then coming back to the same point we reached in 2013. I’m not really sure why the slight drop occurred in 2015, because the economy was strong that year, and usually in robust times people are more willing to spend money. I guess it’s just one of those unexplainable “blips.”
What Kinds of Pets Do We Own?
Take a look here, and you can see that the most popular pet in America is, hands down, the dog.
Nothing else even comes close – we just love our dogs! Cats come in at a distant second, 49% as opposed to 71% for dogs. Fish (see previously where I mentioned that per volume, fish were the most common pets in America), birds, and other pets don’t even really register in any significant way.
Who Are You?
So, who are pet owners in the United States? From the following graph, it would seem that Millenials and Gen-Xers are the most likely to own pets.
Ownership falls off with Baby Boomers, and startlingly so with those over 71. I don’t know why it decreases with Boomers, but I theorize that when it comes to Builders (people over 70), it’s probably because they’re more likely to be occupying assisted living facilities where pets might not be allowed, and also because those who are still living independently might be worried about the possibility of outliving a pet that they might own.
Early Pet Ownership
I think that if you owned a pet when you were young, you’re more likely to want, and to have, one when you’re older. The following graph bears out this theory.
Clearly, most Americans have had pets in their lives during childhood – a remarkable 84%!
Personally, I think that it is a very sad thing, bringing up a child without allowing them to have an animal companion. Kids and dogs (and cats too!) are just meant to be together. The research bears this out. Studies have shown that kids who grow up with pets usually have better social skills, a higher level of cognitive development, and are more empathetic than children who grow up in households where there are no pets.
How Interested are We in Pets?
I’m not sure why only women are represented here, unless it’s that men are less inclined to research pets – maybe it’s the “Honey, can you Google this for me?” syndrome at work.
It appears that most women are very interested in pets, with 75% of women being somewhat to very interested in the topic of pets. Only 9.1% of women express no interest whatsoever in pets.
Time Spent on Research
It appears that most women spend at least some time on the topic of pets.
The truly obsessed (those who spend more than 3 hours daily researching pet topics) amount to a mere 3.7%. Most (a little over 40%) spend half an hour or less. Interestingly, the next highest demographic is women who don’t research pets at all. I wouldn’t necessarily put this down to a lack of interest, though – as you look through other sections in this post, it will be clear to you that women (and presumably men as well) have a great deal of interest in their pets. I think it’s more likely that they’ve already done the research before acquiring a pet, and that they rely on their veterinarian to a large extent when they need information.
The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name
This next graph really surprised me! Anyone who knows me knows how fond I am of my dogs. But I’ve never bought Valentine’s Day gifts for them. It doesn’t mean that I’m not head over heels in love with them, it’s just that I’m not much of a person for “Hallmark holidays.” I think I might be in the minority, though – just take a look!
The lowest figure here is an average of $12.77 per person spent on Valentine gifts for pets in 2009. The figure spiked at $28.55 in 2013, and levelled off to $26.24 in 2016.
I don’t know about you, but the most I’ve ever spent on Valentine’s Day was one time when I bought a dollar store card for a significant other that read “I guess I can stand you.” I’m just not a romantic sort of person.
I can’t condemn anyone for buying Valentine gifts for their pets, though – hey, if you want to show your dog or cat how much you love them, go for it!
It’s not just special occasions, though, that pets get pampered. Take a look at this graph.
It seems that most dog owners enjoy buying things for their canine buddies, and cat owners aren’t all that far behind. I am totally onside with this, since my take on the issue is that there’s not much point in having pets if you’re not going to spoil them!
What Do We Buy?
Americans obviously spend a lot of money on their pets, as you can see from the following graph.
It’s probably a no-brainer that most of the money goes for food and treats, and that this expenditure is closely followed by medical expenses. I was a bit surprised to see how little is spent on toys, but upon further reflection, it makes sense – most pets are perfectly happy with a toy or two, so it’s logical that toys would be a bit low on the list. And besides, once you’ve covered the most essential item – food, and then considered treats, pet sitting, training needs and so on, all that’s left is toys. The following graph bears this out.
The More You Have, the More You Spend
This graph shows the dollar amounts that the top 20% of earners in the United States spend on their pets. Unfortunately, there is no comparison – nothing to show us what the bottom 20% spend. Accordingly, I think that when it comes to cats and dogs statistics and analysis, this is pretty meaningless, but here it is.
And the More We Spend, the More We Spend!
This graph actually has a little more meaning.
What this tells us is that year after year, we have spent more and more on our pets, to the point where the total expenditure in affluent households has doubled in just four years! Pet expenditures are going up, up, up, and showing no sign of decreasing. Whether this is also the case in middle-to-low income brackets, I don’t know, but it’s probably safe to assume that it is.
I am never going to be in the top 20% income bracket. But I know that if it came down to being able to feed myself or feed my dogs, I’d make sure that my dogs were looked after. I think most pet lovers would do the same, and since the cost of everything is going up, it’s probably a reasonable assumption that lower income earners are also increasing the amount of money that they spend on their pets.
What are We Feeding?
You can tell from the following graph that we spend a lot of money on pet food. Mostly, we’re feeding dry food, and that’s a good thing because it’s far better than wet food for dental health and overall well-being.
We’re also spending a lot of money on treats and chews. Which is just fine – our babies need to be shown how much we love them, and one of the ways that we do that is by offering treats.
Our pets’ physical well-being is also something that we’re spending money on, with flea and tick treatments coming in a close second to food expenditure. I’m a little perturbed, though, to see that only 17% of Americans are spending money on heartworm medications, since heartworm is on the rise in most states.
I am pleased to see, though, that more and more people are purchasing insurance for their pets.
It breaks my heart every time I hear about a dog or a cat having to be put to sleep due to accident or illness, when the cost of a cup of coffee per day would more than cover pet insurance premiums. Come on, what’s more important – your dog or cat, or your Starbucks? For more on this topic, see my post 70 Pet Insurance Statistics – By Dog Breed and Condition.
You can see from this graph that “cat people” are slightly less than “dog people” to insure their pets, but the inclination to buy pet insurance is increasing on both sides of the equation. Given the horrific nature of vet bills (as any pet owner who has ever had to deal with a traumatic injury or serious illness can attest), $30-$40 in insurance premiums per month for your pet just makes sense.
If you doubt the value of pet insurance, just take a look at this graph.
Simply stated, the older your pet, the more likely he is to develop age-related health problems.
Don’t think that this is all bad news, though – the fact that more pets are developing age-related problems means that more pets are living longer! This graph also reflects the fact that people are buying supplements to help their pets through their senior years.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a 9-year-old dog or cat was considered to be very old indeed! Now, we’re seeing more and more pets living into the double digits, and as long as we take care of them, that’s a very good thing!
It Means More Money, Though
As our pets live longer lives, we spend more on veterinary care.
Veterinarians are making more money now than they ever have, and that’s not a bad thing. Pets are living longer, and needing more medical care in their senior years. I don’t know about you, but I figure that any money I spend that will give my dogs more years, and an enhanced quality of life, is money well spent.
As the years go by, we’re going to be spending more money, not less, on veterinary services.
Again, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that our pets are living longer, healthier lives, and that’s a good thing!
Who Wants You to Spend Money?
Pet stores! And they’ll spend money to make you spend money. Just take a look at what one major pet store spends in advertising.
Who are They Targeting?
By far, millennials have more pets of every type than any other group, closely followed by Gen X.
How Many Cats?
Cat ownership has taken a bit of a dip since an all-time high in 2013, but not by much. Take a look at how many cats there are in the United States.
How Many Dogs?
It looks like dogs still rule, though, with the dog population in America significantly outweighing the cat population.
Who Has Dogs?
Just about everyone! If you don’t have a dog, you’re definitely in the minority.
Nearly half the population has a dog.
Where are These Pets Coming From?
At this point, I would like to encourage you to read my post, 5 Reasons Why Puppy Mills Must Be Stopped.
Puppy mills might not be represented on this graph, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not there.
When you buy a dog or a cat from a pet store, there is a very good chance that you’re buying from a pet mill – a ranch where animals are bred in horrible conditions, and then delivered to a pet store that has no interest whatsoever in the health and well-being of the animal.
This doesn’t mean that you have to buy from an accredited breeder. In fact, many breeders that are not CKC registered can sell you a perfectly lovely, healthy dog, as you will see from my post How to Get the Right Dog from the Right Breeder. The main thing here is that you have to carefully vet any breeder, whether you’re buying a dog or a cat, and make sure that they have a clean facility with happy, healthy breeding stock. Dirt, thin animals, substandard housing and an unwillingness to allow you to be in contact with the animals are all red flags indicating that you may be dealing with very bad breeders. If it looks bad, walk away and report the breeder to the SPCA, the Humane Society, and in the worst case, to the police.
The Final Word
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about these cats and dogs statistics and analysis. I think that the information I’ve provided indicates beyond all doubt that Americans love their pets and are willing to spend incredible amounts of money on the health and well-being of their dogs and cats.
I think that’s a good thing. As Ghandi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” And Pope Francis has been quoted as saying “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
If Ghandi is right, then we do well to spoil our dogs and cats. And if Pope Francis is right, it won’t be just for now – we’ll see our babies again in the fullness of time.
Most of us have had pets all our lives. Those of us who haven’t usually want to. At least that’s what the statistics seem to prove. Pets are love. Most of us have always known that. For now, I’m going to snuggle up with my dogs, and think about how remarkable it is that a totally different species can want to be with us to the exclusion of their own kind. And I hope that you will also cuddle up with your dog or your cat, and marvel at the ways in which they love us.
As I said before, this isn’t “Simply for Cats.” But if you have a cat that you love, then I applaud you. I’m going to go and spend time with my dogs. Whatever pet is your love of choice, I wish you much happiness. Many snuggles and cuddles, and forever love.