Ownership of dogs and cats in the US has continued to rise in the two decades that the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has been conducting its National Pet Owners Survey. That's the good news.
The not so rosy news is that since 2006, the increase in ownership has been very small -- for example, dog ownership increased just 1.5% in the 2011-12 survey from the previous one (2010), while cat ownership grew just 1.8%. That's after similarly small increases from 2008 to 2010. What's more, the most recent increases were in parallel (actually, a little lower) with a rise in US households overall of 2.2%. In fact, the percentage of US households owning any type of pet has remained in the 61%-63% range since 1998, settling in at 62% the last four years. For dogs, the percentage has been stuck at 39% since 1998; for cats, it's settled at 33% after reaching only 34% in the previous eight years.
The news for other species is even worse: US ownership of birds, small mammals (other than dogs and cats), reptiles, freshwater fish and horses all declined from 2010 to 2012 -- decreases ranged from 2% for reptiles to 38% for horses -- while ownership of saltwater fish remained the same. The percentage of US households owning those species has flattened or slightly declined over the past 12 years.
Growth in pet ownership is similarly slow in other developed markets, such as Western Europe and Japan. So, while we should celebrate that growth is happening at all, experts in the pet industry (especially in the US) worry it may not be enough to sustain market growth over the coming years and decades.
That's why it's heartening to see research on pet ownership under way. In the first phase of a three-part study funded by a PetSmart Charities grant, the American Humane Association, through its Animal Welfare Research Institute, found ownership data similar to APPA's: Of 117.5 million US households, 46.3 million own at least one dog and 38.9 million own a cat. But the study really delved into reasons for not owning a pet and the plight of homeless pets, and there the statistics are not as positive. For example, only 22% of previous dog owners surveyed and 18% of cat owners had obtained their prior pets from a shelter or rescue organization. Also, despite the widely reported physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership for older people, respondents over age 65 were among the least likely to consider pet ownership.
Obviously, much work needs to be done, but at least the research is uncovering which areas need the most work. Phase II of the study will delve into whether adoptions from humane organizations stick (how many dogs and cats acquired from shelters and animal control agencies remain in their new homes six months after) and what happens to those pets when the adoptions don't work out. Phase III will test practical intervention strategies for improving those retention rates.
This research is contributing to a growing body of knowledge on the benefits of pet ownership; for example, APPA started and continues to develop the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) and, earlier this year, announced the launch of HABRI Central, an online portal for all that research and related work.
If you want to help ensure the continued growth of the petfood market, it might pay for you or your company to investigate these various research initiatives and see how you can support them. At the very least, use the power of your position in the marketplace to promote pet ownership and adoption. Your future might depend on it.