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Are You the Average Pet Owner?

By: Alex Lieber

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If you painted a demographic portrait of the average pet owner, what would it look like? Well, market researchers try to do just that every year, and the results say a lot about how pet ownership has changed over the years.

Of all the research done on people, their pets and their spending habits, none is as complete as the National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). This study is released every other year to chart trends in markets and demographics.

Begun in 1988, it is perhaps the best snapshot of pet ownership in America, be it dog, cat, bird, small mammal or reptile. The data reflects statistics collected and analyzed in 2000 for the 2001-2002 edition. A mass mailing of 45,000 was done in the first phase of the study, and a follow-up, detailed questionnaire was mailed to specific pet owners in the second phase.

Knowing the exact number of dogs and cats is impossible, but it is estimated that there are 68 million dogs and 73 million cats in the United States. Three out of 10 households own a dog or cat (almost half of the population owned a pet of some kind).

Although there are more cats than dogs, more households owned a dog. The study showed cats had narrowed the gap, but 39 percent of households owned one or more dogs in 2000, while 34 percent owned one or more cats (an increase over 2 percent from the previous study).

  • The average dog-owning household has 1.7 dogs.
  • The average cat-owning household has 2.1 cats.

    More people obtain their dog/cat from a friend or relative than any other source (33 percent and 39 percent respectively). For dogs and cats, shelters come in third place as a source (both at 20 percent). For cats, strays come in second (29 percent); for dogs, breeders are the second-most popular source (24 percent).

    According to the survey, most pet owners reported higher household incomes than the total U.S. household population:

  • Overall, the average household income was $36,000 a year.
  • For dogs, the average household income was $39,000 a year.
  • Households with cats reported a yearly income of $37,000 a year.

    Owning a dog or cat seems to entail a "traditional" family setting, meaning a husband, wife and children, compared to the rest of the population. About 69 percent of the population categorize themselves as "traditional."

    But of the dog-owning population, 82 percent consider themselves traditional. Of cat owners, 73 percent categorized themselves as traditional. The average age of the head of household is 47 years old. The average age of a pet owner is almost 43 years old.

    It's a Dog's Life

    Of all the dog owners surveyed, 43 percent keep them indoors some of the time, but 62 percent keep them indoors at night. For those kept indoors at night:

  • 36 percent slept in the owner's bed
  • 20 percent on a rug
  • 20 percent in a chair or couch

    It's a Cat's Life

    About 63 percent of households keep the cat in at night (and 54 percent keep them in all the time). Cats definitely fare better in the sleep department.

  • 59 percent get to sleep anywhere they want
  • 51 percent sleep in the owner's bed
  • Just 9 percent are relegated to a cat bed

    So while more households own a dog than a cat, the individual feline has the run of the house. For the right cat, life can be awfully good.

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