Did you know that in 2017, 68 percent of American households owned at least one kind of pet? If you don’t have a pet now, you’ve probably owned one in the past, or have at least thought about it.
We explore the benefits and costs of having a pet below, as well as looking at some general stats on pet ownership.
- 95 percent of Americans consider their pets to be family members.
- Freshwater aquarium fish are the most popular pet, with 139.3 million of them in the U.S. in 2017.
- Gen Xers and Millennials made up more than two thirds of all pet owners in the United States in 2016.
- In 2017, Americans spent $1 billion on pet insurance.
We look at the number of households owning at least one pet in the chart below, and examine how that’s changed over time.
As you can see, between 1988 and 2008, a 20 year period, pet-owning households increased by 6 percent in the United States.
In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, pet ownership rose another 6 percent to 68 percent—an average of over 1 percent per year.
While that dipped in 2015 to 65 percent, by 2017, 68 percent of American households once again owned at least one pet.
We next looked at the age of pet owners in the U.S.
In 2016, 35 percent of all pet owners were Millennials, followed closely by Gen X at 32 percent.
Baby Boomers made up only 27 percent of pet owners, and those over the age of 71 were only 6 percent of the U.S. pet-owning population.
Americans love their pets, no matter what their age, as revealed in the stats below.
For those of us who own pets, is there any real benefit, other than the warm fuzzies their cute little faces and waggly tails (or fins and scales) give us?
Benefits of Pet Ownership
You may have heard that owning dogs and cats can provide health benefits to their owners, but did you know that owning a home aquarium also offers several health benefits?
You may be surprised at just how good for your health it is to own pets!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, reduce feelings of loneliness and even help pet owners manage depression.
Certain types of pets also increase owner socialization with other humans, lower stress levels, and increase activity levels (if you have to walk a dog, say).
Interestingly, the benefits of keeping fish may be just as good as, or even better than, owning other types of pets.
While fish owners also had lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, and less anxiety, one study showed fish tanks in dentists’ offices reduced the amount of pain dental patients felt. So the next time you stub your toe at home, stare into the soothing waters of your fish tank and feel the pain melt away.
In addition, fish tanks were shown to help calm children who struggle with hyperactivity, and to help fish tank owners sleep better at night.
Perhaps the best reasons to keep fish, however, were discovered in a study by Purdue University, comparing Alzheimer’s patients with daily exposure to in-home aquariums to Alzheimer’s patients whose caregivers did not have in-home aquariums.
The results are broken down in the infographic below.
Surprisingly, the study found that Alzheimer’s patients who were around fish tanks daily were calmer, less irrational, more mentally alert, less aggressive, and ate more food than those without daily fish tank exposure.
There did not appear to be any difference between having a freshwater tank or a saltwater tank.
How many people actually own fish in the United States, though? We break down the number of fish and other pets in the U.S. and in selected European countries for comparison.
Types of Pets
So what types of pets do Americans own? Check out the graphs below to find out. Did your pet show up as high on the list as you thought it would?
The graph below lays out the pet population in the United States for 2017-2018. The total number of pets owned during that period was 393.3 million.
Did you expect freshwater fish to top the list at 139.3 million? By sheer volume of animals owned, they are the undisputed champions, and it’s easy to see why, when you consider that most aquarium owners have multiple fish in their tanks and not just one or two.
(Keep in mind, this is the actual number of animals owned, not the number of households with pets.)
Cats followed at a distant second, with 94.2 million cats owned in the U.S. Cat owners can claim a small victory here over dog owners, since there were only 89.7 million dogs, a difference of around five million.
The number of birds owned as pets in the United States slightly edged out the number of saltwater fish being kept.
Small animals (including gerbils, rabbits, and other rodents) beat out reptiles by around five million, and horses rounded out the data with a total population of 7.6 million considered pets.
We take a closer look at the trends for the four most popular pets in the United States, starting with the number of dogs.
Clearly, Americans love their dogs, and dog ownership has risen steadily in the United States since 2002, with a slight dip in 2015. In the past 17 years, the number of pet dogs in the U.S. has increased by 21.7 million, or nearly 32 percent.
Interestingly, the number of pet cats in the U.S. over the past 17 years has cycled up and down, and hasn’t grown consistently like the number of pet dogs has during the same period, as shown in the graph below.
As you can see, between 2002 and 2013, the number of pet dogs in the U.S. rose steadily, while the number of pet cats rose, dipped, rose, dipped, and rose again. It’s unclear why these differences exist between pet types.
What about birds? Do you know someone who owns one? With more than 20 million pet birds in the U.S. in 2017, chances are good you might!
Interestingly, the number of pet birds in the United States declined steadily between 2000 and 20008, climbing back up after 2008, only to take a sharp dip in 2015 to their lowest levels, with only 14.3 million pet birds in the U.S.
In 2017, the number of pet birds in the U.S. went back up to their 2014 levels of 20.6 million.
Finally, we look at those freshwater aquarium fish, taking over the American pet landscape.
Interestingly, while 139.3 million freshwater pet fish in 2017 sounds pretty impressive, that’s actually lower than every year except 2004 and 2015, and a far cry from the high of 185 million pet fish in 2002.
2015 had the lowest number of pets for each type of pet we looked at in the graphs above, by a very large margin—a 50 million decrease for fish from 2013, a nearly six million decrease for dogs from 2013 (their largest decrease), a six million decrease for birds, and a nearly ten million decrease for cats.
We also wanted to break down dog and cat ownership by state to find out which made the top ten for overall pet ownership, cat ownership and dog ownership. See if your state made the list below.
Vermont had the highest percentage of pet-owning households, with 70.8 percent of all households owning a pet in Vermont.
Wyoming was the final top-ten contender with 61.8 percent of households owning a pet, although there wasn’t a huge difference between tenth and 11th place on the list.
But does that also mean that Vermont had the highest percentage of dog-owning households? Check out the chart below to find out.
Vermont didn’t crack the top ten on the dog-ownership list. Interestingly, the top ten states for dog-owning households are almost exclusively western or southern.
New Mexico, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia were in nearly four-way tie, each hovering around 46% of households owning dogs.
What about the top ten states for cat ownership? Check it out below!
Look who’s back on top—Vermont, with nearly 50 percent of households owning at least one cat.
Only West Virginia and Kentucky cracked the top ten for both dog and cat ownership—two states that must really, really love their pets!
Now that we’ve looked at the U.S., what about other countries? Are we alone in our love for pets? Not at all! Check out dog and cat ownership by country as compared to the U.S. in the chart below.
While it may seem like a huge difference between the number of dogs in the United States and European countries, remember that the human population is much smaller in those countries than in the U.S., so it makes sense that the pet population would be much smaller in those countries, as well.
Next we look at cat ownership in selected European nations as compared to the United States.
Interestingly, Germany, France, and Italy all own more cats than dogs, with Spain and the UK owning more dogs than cats.
Germany was once again the top pet-owning country, beating out all others for both dogs and cats.
We limited our list to only five European nations, but according to the data we reviewed, there were more pet dogs and cats in Germany than 22 other European nations. Germany really loves their pets!
So far, we’ve only looked at your average, run-of-the mill pet—but of course, we all know someone (or know someone who knows someone) with a lizard, snake, or other exotic animal. So what’s going on with exotic pet ownership?
A Word About Exotic Pets
What exactly is considered an exotic pet? Typically, the term refers to any non-domesticated animal (i.e. not a housecat, dog breed, canary, gerbil, etc.), but what is considered non-domesticated may vary from state to state.
Maybe images of tigers and pythons come to mind, but you might be surprised at the variety of animals considered exotic—and where they are(n’t) allowed.
Many states ban classes of animals altogether, while some allow exotic animals with a permit, or leave it up to individual cities to regulate the animals.
If you’re thinking of getting a lizard or other reptile (or an amphibian), most states are fine with that. (Except alligators, but come on—you don’t really want to own one of those, right?)
We take a look at a few common-ish and fairly easy to care for exotic pets that are legal in the United States in the chart below, along with the states that have banned each of the “easy care” exotics on our list.
Keep in mind that most (not all) exotic animals are not tame, and can lash out at you or your loved ones because they aren’t bonded to humans in the way that domestic dogs and cats are.
They are still wild, and their first thought is to protect themselves and whatever they perceive as their territory. Even if that means biting, scratching, or stinging the person who feeds them and keeps them warm and just played with them a couple of hours ago.
Maybe you’re now thinking of getting a Fennec fox (Google them—they are adorable!), but what about the costs of pet ownership? How much are we spending on our pets (exotic or not) in the U.S.?
Costs of Owning a Pet
Now that you know how good pets are for your health, and how many of your peers own at least one, and a few fun furry exotics to check out, you may be tempted to run out and buy a pet before finishing this article.
However, take a breath and let’s look at the annual average costs of owning a pet to be sure you’re ready for the financial side of pet ownership.
According to the national pet owners survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet owners spent an average of $1,191.90 on their pets in 2015. We break that down further in the graph below.
The largest chunk of that nearly $1,200 spent by U.S. households in 2015 was eaten up by food and treats, followed by veterinary care (including routine vet appointments) and other medical-related expenses, followed by pet sitting/pet boarding.
Toys took the last spot at $63.70 on average.
While $1,191.90 might not seem like much per pet, (especially if you’re spending more than that on your pets!) when added all together for every pet owner in the United States, pet products and pet care ends up becoming a multi-billion dollar industry.
*2019 values are estimates
As you can see, spending for our pets continues to increase, seemingly regardless of what the economy does. In fact, spending rose from $50.96 billion in 2011 to $75.38 billion in 2019, an increase of nearly $25 billion dollars in eight years, for an average of $3 billion per year.
We decided to break that down by category and see what the industry drivers were, as noted in the graph below.
*2019 values are estimates
Over that same time period, you can see that spending in every category except one has gone up since 2011. Surprisingly, that category was purchasing live pets. While we’re spending less on purchasing a pet, we’re spending more on the pets we have.
In fact, food and treat spending has risen more sharply than any other category, from nearly $20 billion in 2011 to over $31 billion in 2019. That’s an $11 billion increase in spending.
Vet care and medical spending rose from $13.41 billion in 2011 to nearly $19 billion in 2019, an increase of roughly $5.6 billion in eight years.
Pet supplies, such as collars, harnesses, litter, habitats, etc. and over-the-counter medications have tracked with vet care spending and increased from $11.77 billion in 2011 to $16.44 billion in 2019, an increase of nearly $5 billion.
Purchasing animals was the only category to show a decrease in spending, from $2.14 billion in 2011 to $1.97 billion in 2019, by far the smallest category in our graph.
Finally, other services, including grooming and training, went from $3.79 billion in 2011 to $6.31 billion in 2019, a nearly $3 billion increase.
Vet care and medical expenses made up the second largest expenditure for every year in our graph. We take a look at the costs of pet health care in more depth in the section below.
What about pet health and the costs of pet care? It doesn’t seem to matter what the cost is to some owners, as a 2011 study found that 68 percent of dog owners would keep their pet care spending the same no matter what happens with the economy.
In fact, many owners spend more on their pet’s medical expenses than they do on their own health care costs, depending on what their pet’s health issues are.
On average, dog owners took their dogs to the vet 2.7 times per year, while for cat owners, it was 2.2 times per year. Bird owners took their pets in the most often, with an average of 3.1 vet visits per year.
We took a look at average health care spending and vet costs by type of visit in the graph below.
As expected, surgery was more expensive than any other type of vet visit, averaging $474 for dogs, $245 for cats, and only $75 for birds.
Health care expenses for dogs were more expensive in every category except visits due to illness, where cats were more expensive to treat, at $244 on average compared to dogs’ $204 on average.
Routine vet visits for dogs cost $75 more, on average, than routine vet visits for cats, and emergency vet visits were nearly double the cost for dogs that they were for cats. For dogs, that emergency visit was an average of $349, while for cats it was only $154.
Could it be because some dog breeds are known to have breed-related health issues, driving the overall average cost of care up for dogs? We take a look at some popular breeds with the worst health issues below.
If you already own one of these breeds, don’t panic—while these are the diseases that are common for each of the named breeds, that doesn’t mean every dog in that breed will get every (or any!) of the listed illnesses.
You may have a purebred German Shepherd, for example, who has never shown signs of any type of health issue.
If you’ve been considering one of the breeds in the chart above, you don’t necessarily have to abandon your breed of choice because of the information here—just make sure to ask plenty of questions about a particular dog’s parents and health history, including requesting any documents from prior veterinary visits.
Also see if you can have the dog you’re interested in checked out first by a vet you trust. They can tell you if there are any concerns with the dog you’d like to purchase.
And, yes, studies have shown that, in general, mixed breeds do have fewer health problems than purebreds, so if you’re not set on a particular breed, dive into the mixed breed pool!
If, however, you still have your heart set on a purebred of some kind, check out a breeds with the fewest health issues below.
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Border Collie
- Siberian Husky
That doesn’t mean these breeds have no health issues, but they tend to have very few common health issues, and those issues typically occur in a minority of the dogs in each breed, compared to occurring in a majority of the dogs on the unhealthiest list.
Cat breeds which tend to be the healthiest include:
- Egyptian Mau
- Russian Blue
- American and British Shorthair
If you want to avoid higher vet bills for your cat, then you may want to stay away from Persian, Siamese, Himalayan, and Abyssinian cats.
According to data on 525,000 cats and dogs, the most common health issues for dogs were:
- Skin allergies
- Ear infections
- Benign tumors
- Skin infections
For cats, the most common health issues were:
- Bladder/Urinary tract diseases
- Dental disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Overactive thyroid
Interestingly, there was no overlap in the top five health issues between dogs and cats.
Some of the treatments for cats and dogs can cost $1,000 or more, and since most Americans don’t have pet insurance, treatment costs can add up quickly.
There are a few organizations that can help with pet care expenses—check with your local veterinarian to see what help might be available in your area if you find yourself with unexpected, or unexpectedly high, pet care costs.
For fish, there are freshwater species that are known to be hardier than others, meaning they are less likely to succumb to common fish ailments. These fish are typically labeled as “beginner” fish at your local fish store, indicating that they’re pretty hard to kill.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a section on cannabis and pet health, especially considering that 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 of those have also legalized recreational marijuana.
The chart below lays out the states, as of August 2019, that had legalized at least medical marijuana.
If you own a pet in one of the states on the chart above, then you need to be aware of the effects marijuana can have on your pet.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), THC, the component in marijuana that causes the high, is actually toxic to dogs.
If ingested by dogs, THC can lead to vomiting, lack of coordination (clumsiness), seizures, low blood pressure, low body temperature, depression, and drowsiness or excitability. Edibles appear to be especially harmful.
Unfortunately, dogs have died from THC poisoning, so while marijuana may be helpful for human owners, it has deadly consequences for our pets.
The AVMA also recommends that those who smoke marijuana do so away from their pets, as it appears that even the smoke can be harmful to dogs.
Even if you don’t use marijuana, your dog could still pick up something on your daily walks or special outings. Be aware of the signs of THC poisoning in your dog so you can get to the vet as soon after ingestion as possible.
Now that we’ve managed to terrify you with all of your pet’s possible health concerns, you may be thinking it’s a good move to get some pet insurance. Next, we take a look at your options and whether they’re a help or just a headache.
Pet Insurance—Worth it or Not?
So with all the possible issues your pet could face, is pet insurance worth it?
That may just depend on the type of coverage you have, the age and general health of your pet, and where you take your pet for veterinary care. Interestingly, only around 1 percent of pet owners have pet insurance.
We take a look at average accident insurance premiums for pets in the graph below.
From the graph above, it’s clear that accident insurance premiums are cheaper for cats than dogs. Premiums for dogs cost anywhere from $36 more than cat premiums to nearly $50 more than cat premiums.
This could be due, in part, to the fact that health care procedures typically cost more for dogs than cats, as discussed earlier in this article.
It could also be affected by how often dogs go to the vet versus cats—dogs do tend to make more visits annually to the vet, on average, than cats do.
Interestingly, accident insurance premiums for cats dropped sharply between 2017 and 2018, while premiums for dogs only decreased by six cents during that same time period.
Do you need accident insurance for your pet? What is it, and what are your options?
If you’re on the fence, one thing to keep in mind is that the most common pet insurance claims in 2016 were for minor issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and ear infections.
There are several coverage options available for pets:
- Wellness/Preventative Care
- Whole Pet (covering two or more options above)
81 percent of all policies in 2016 were combined accident and illness policies for dogs; around 15 percent covered cats and other pets; while only 4 percent of policies were for accident-only or wellness/preventative-only coverage.
Of course, the option you choose depends on your pet’s prior history, any breed-specific conditions you may need to worry about, and how much you’re able or willing to spend on coverage.
Most plans will require you to pay a monthly insurance premium, so keep that in mind when planning out your budget, but you do have the option, just like with human insurance, to go for a high-deductible low premium plan, and some plans allow you to set the insurance limit.
However, many of the plans require you to pay all vet costs upfront and then request reimbursement through the insurance plan.
You may not have to pay for your pet’s insurance at all, however, as many companies are now offering pet insurance as one of their benefits to employees.
And for those of you own exotic pets, you may not have a choice—most pet insurance companies don’t insure exotic animals, so you may have to do some additional research to find coverage for your reticulated python.
Accident-only insurance tends to be cheaper, but it only covers injuries that are truly accidents, like a twisted knee when jumping after Fido’s favorite frisbee. However, this type of insurance did actually save pet owners money over the lifetime of their pets.
Wellness/preventative care and illness insurance tended to cost more over the lifetime of the pet than the vet visits did, and were not considered worth the money, according to one long-term study.
It may be best to skip the pet health insurance altogether unless your pet is prone to diseases or illnesses that are expensive to treat, such as cancer, or is a breed prone to many diseases.
68 percent of American households owned at least one pet in 2017, making the pet industry a multibillion dollar industry in the U.S.
While it may seem that everyone you know owns a dog or a cat, freshwater fish are actually the most common pet in the United States, followed distantly by cats and then by dogs.
Exotic pets, though exciting and unusual, are banned in many states, and some have care requirements that domesticated pets don’t. In addition, because of their rarity, exotic pets may cost more than a boring old dog or cat.
Pet care costs continue to rise, making many wonder if pet insurance is right for them. According to our research, you may lose money on the deal if your pet is fairly healthy, but it can be worth it for breeds prone to expensive (and numerous) health issues.
Finally, go love on a pet to get some much-needed health benefits, like reduced stress, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less anxiety. Aquariums have great health benefits that may get overlooked since you aren’t able to (typically) pet your fish.
If pet ownership isn’t right for you right now, go snuggle with a friend’s pet or stare into their aquarium and let the healing begin.
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