More pets are family, but millions don't get regular health care
More than ever, people consider their pets to be members of the family. Unfortunately, according to a new report released by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the love for a family pet doesn't always translate into visits to the veterinarian – visits that can lead to a longer and healthier life.
There were about 70 million pet dogs and 74.1 million pet cats in the United States at the end of 2011, according to the AVMA's recently released 2012 US Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. The Sourcebook contains the results of a national survey of more than 50,000 households that was conducted in early 2012. The survey is conducted every five years.
The survey results paint a clear picture that pets have a special place in our homes. About 66 percent of dog owners consider their dogs to be family members, up from 53.5 percent in 2006. More than half of cat owners, or 56.1 percent, consider their cats to be family members, up from 49.4 percent in 2006.
The growth in the human-animal bond, however, isn't always reflective of the care the pets receive. About 7.5 million pet dogs and 20 million pet cats went to the veterinarian only when they were sick, according to the report.
"If so many dogs and so many cats are seeing the veterinarian only when they are sick, chances are many are getting sick when they don't need to be," said AVMA President Dr. Doug Aspros. "The human-animal bond is stronger than ever, but we are very concerned that pets may not be getting the preventive health care they need."
Among dog-owning households, about 81 percent made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 1.7 percent from 2006. The news, however, is much worse for cats. Among cat-owning households, 55.1 percent had at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 13.5 percent from 2006.
"What is most perplexing is that so many dog and cat owners understand that routine check-ups and preventive health care are important for their pets," Dr. Aspros said. "Nearly 90 percent of dog owners and 75 percent of cat owners surveyed indicated that routine check-ups and preventive care are either very or somewhat important."
Yet 10.8 percent of dog owners and 27.1 percent of cat owners said they only took their pets to the veterinarian when they were sick. Even more concerning, is that 3.5 percent of dog owners and 9.6 percent of cat owners indicated that they never took their pets to the veterinarian.
When asked why they didn't visit the veterinarian in 2011, 53.9 percent of cat owners and 48.6 percent of dog owners said they didn't go because their pets did not get sick or injured.
"While pet owners say that visiting the veterinarian is very important, some aren't backing up their words with actions, even though many want – and expect – the same level of health care for their pets that they want and expect for themselves," Dr. Aspros said. "What's important to remember is that preventive pet care can help save you money. Potential health problems in pets can be diagnosed early – and costs can be reduced – if our pets visit the veterinarian on a regular basis."