Why Do Fewer People Have Cats?

A recent AVMA survey reveals that fewer households have cats than they did six years ago. What's happened?

Cats rule — literally. You might call dogs “Man’s best friend,” but cats have maintained their status as the most popular pet in America since 1987, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association 2012 Pet Demographic Sourcebook.

The Sourcebook is like a pet census, taken every five years by the AVMA. The most recent book (to be released in its entirety this fall) will show that cat ownership is now falling.

For the first time since the survey began in 1983, the pet cat population is on the decline.

By The Numbers
Since 2006, this is how pet ownership has changed, according to the AVMA survey:
•    Cat-owning households have declined 6.2%, from 34.2 million households to 30.4 million.
•    Cat ownership has gone down 9%, from 81.7 million to 74.1 million cats.
•    Dog ownership declined 3% to 69.9 million.
•    Pet bird numbers crash landed by  26% to 8.3 million.
•    Horses took a hit, down about 33% to 4.9 million.

Many factors are likely in play, the most significant being the economy. Buying a large pet parrot such as an Amazon or Macaw is expensive, and horse care isn’t for the indigent. The last AVMA survey in 2006 showed an aging pet population; clearly many of those pets have since passed away and have not been replaced — in part, perhaps due to the aging human population.

Cat Health Statistics    
The AVMA survey also reveals that:
•    Veterinary visits for cats are down over 4%
•    Nearly half of all cats didn’t even see a veterinarian in 2011.

Other industry data suggests veterinary visits for cats might be in an even steeper decline. According to the 2011 Bayer Usage Study:
•    Nearly 60% of cat owners report their cat hates going to the vet.
•    About 40% of cat owners say even thinking about a vet visit is stressful.

Meanwhile, when it comes to adopting dogs, some pet shelters are moving in the right direction. Cat adoptions, intake and euthanasia numbers remain about the same as they were a few decades ago.

When breeders detect a drop-off in interest, owned cats’ preventive illness rises, trap-neuter-return programs for community cats are maligned, and the best shelters are generally lucky to maintain their adoption numbers.

I saw this coming. That is why Dan Kramer (now a marketing consultant in the pet industry), Lea-Ann Germinder (a publicist with a long history of helping companion animals) and I founded a non-profit called the CATalyst Council. We needed to act then – and we need to now, even more. The question I don’t know the answer to – what do we do?

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