A small but alarming percentage of cats and dogs never see a veterinarian, and about three times as many get medical care only when sick.
That was the word Thursday from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which released the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, a survey taken every five years to measure the state of pet care and pet ownership in the United States.
The AVMA found that 3.5% of dog owners and 9.6% of cat owners swear off all veterinary visits. In addition, 10.8% of dog owners and 27.1% of cat owners visit a veterinarian only when the animal is sick.
The latter percentages translated to 7.5 million dogs and 20 million cats that see a veterinarian only when they’re ailing.
“What is most perplexing is that so many dog and cat owners understand that routine check-ups and preventive health care are important for their pets,” said AVMA president Doug Aspros, DVM. “Nearly 90% of dog owners and 75% of cat owners surveyed indicated that routine check-ups and preventive care are either very or somewhat important.”
Regular veterinary visits are crucial to an animal’s overall health, Dr. Aspros said.
“What’s important to remember is that preventive pet care can help save … money,” he stated. “Potential health problems in pets can be diagnosed early – and costs can be reduced–if our pets visit the veterinarian on a regular basis.”
Spending on veterinary care for dogs totaled $19.1 billion in 2011, up more than 18% from five years earlier, the AVMA added. Cat owners spent $7.4 billion in 2011, a rise of 4.2%.
The survey also asked about the human-animal bond.
About 66% of dog owners considered their dogs to be family members, up from 53.5% in 2006, the AVMA reported. More than half of cat owners, or 56% , said their cats were family members, up from 49.4% in 2006.
“The human-animal bond is stronger than ever, but we are very concerned that pets may not be getting the preventive health care they need,” Aspros reiterated.
While 56% of households owned a pet in 2011, the percentage fell by 2.4% from 2006, mostly because of economic conditions, the AVMA reported. The survey counted 70 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats.
Among other species, specialty or exotic pets were in 10.6% of households in 2011, down from 12.7% five years earlier. Bird ownership also fell, from 3.9% of households to 3.1%, and horse ownership declined from 1.8% to 1.5%.
The AVMA, founded in 1863 and headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., has more than 82,500 member veterinarians worldwide.