Fewer Americans have pets, but dogs still lead the pack

Published: Friday, Aug. 10 2012 2:43 p.m. MDT

"Basically, we find that just about everyone who has pets really loves their pets," said Inga Fricke, director of sheltering and pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States. "They just can take care of them differently based on the resources they have available to them. We're doing research on under-served communities ... people living in poverty. Many have pets and love their pets just as much as people in more affluent areas. They just don't have as much access to programs and care." The agency is looking at ways to improve that access to care, she added, so more people can enjoy the benefits of pets.

WebMD reported that having pets "helps lower blood pressure and lessens anxiety. They boost our immunity. They can even help you get dates." Dogs can encourage people to go for walks and get regular exercise. And studies have shown, it noted, that kids who grow up in homes with a cat or dog are less likely to develop allergies.

The cost of care

Cat owners are more apt to have multiple cats. The report says the average is 2.1 per household, while for dogs the number is 1.6. But dog owners are "more dedicated to providing their beloved pets with appropriate veterinary care," the group said. Veterinary care for dogs increased 9.2 percent from 2006 to 2011, while cat care decreased 4.4 percent. In all, dog care accounted for 130.4 million visits to the vet, compared to 60.5 million visits for cats.

Without question, pet ownership has a cost, which Investopedia.com calls significant. With medical care, food, boarding, grooming, treats and toys, it says the average annual cost of owning a dog is $1,571, while a cat costs about $919.

Veterinary care for the two popular types of pets totaled $26.5 billion in 2011.

Research has shown that pets can provide great value, particularly to the elderly who may be lonely. In a study by researchers in the United Kingdom that was published in the journal BMJ, 90 percent of pet owners said they consider their creature a valued family member. Those same researchers found "particular value" in pet ownership, including possible health benefits, for patients recovering from major illness and for older people.

However, the study also noted that some people might choose to ignore health advice if it would cause issues with a pet. For instance, people who are told they should get rid of a cat because of allergies might keep it anyway. And it's conceivable, even, that someone would choose not to seek care if it would mean a hospitalization and inability to care for the pet.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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