The U.S. dog population totaled 69.9 million in 2011, according to the latest survey from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which was conducted in early 2012 and released in mid-January as the “U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook.” That’s a whole lot of dogs, but not as many as when the survey was last done in 2006. At that time, that survey determined there were 72 million dogs.

Based on more than 50,347 completed questionnaires, the survey also found that pet ownership, in general, decreased 2.4 percent between 2006 and 2011, such that 56 percent of households responding to the survey had at least one pet. Two-thirds of those households have more than one pet, however.

The number of dogs in the United States went down from 72 million in 2006 to just under 70 million in 2011, according to the most recent survey of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Photo © Can Stock Photo.

How Many Dogs?

At the end of 2011, 36.5 percent of households owned a dog, a 1.9 percent decrease from 2006. While a smaller percentage of households own a dog, the actual number of households is greater – approximately 43.3 million households, a 0.7 percent increase from 43 million in 2006.

“Most regions experienced a decrease in dog ownership in the past five years,” the survey states. Showing the largest decline was the Mountain region, down 9.5 percent. Within that region, New Mexico’s dog population plummeted the most – from 878,000 to 703,000; Idaho’s dropped from 479,000 to 357,000; Wyoming’s went from 230,000 to 125,000; Nevada’s, 674,000 to 578,000; and Montana’s, 351,000 to 282,000. In that same period, human population increased in each of those states: New Mexico’s estimated population grew from 1,954,599, according to the Western Rural Development Center, to 2,078,674, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; Idaho’s went from 1.47 million (WRDC) to 1.58 (U.S. Census); Wyoming, 515,004 (University of Wyoming) to 567,356 (U.S. Census); Nevada, 2.5 million (WRDC) to 2.7 (U.S. Census); and Montana, 945,000 (AARP) to 997,667.

Of the nine regions into which the survey divides the country, none saw an increase in the dog population as a whole. However, two regions experienced growth in the percentage of households with dogs: The Middle Atlantic region’s household-owning dogs increased from 29.2 to 31.1 percent. This region is made up of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The East South Central region, consisting of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, is the only other region that showed dog-owning household growth – from 43.8 to 44.7 percent.

More dogs live in Texas, California and Florida, than in any other state, with 7.2 million in the Lone Star State for its 25.6 million residents, 6.7 million in the Golden State for its 37.7 million citizens and 4.2 million as company for the Sunshine State’s 19 million people.

Two-thirds of U.S. households consider their dogs as members of the family. Photo © Can Stock Photo.

Are Dogs Property?

The perception of dogs within a household will be of interest to those concerned about preserving dog owners’ rights in the U.S. Two-thirds, or 66.7 percent, of dog owners consider their dogs family members, while 32.6 percent see them as pets or companions. Despite the fact that virtually all jurisdictions throughout the country treat dogs as property in the legal sense, just 0.7 percent of owners surveyed consider their dogs as property.

This varies based on the owner’s age. For example, 70.3 percent of 19- to 29-year-olds consider their dogs family members, yet 1.3 percent sees them as property. In the 65-plus age category, 62 percent perceive their dogs as family members, 37.3 percent as companions or pets, and 0.7, as property.

Small dogs were more popular than medium or large dogs in 2011. Photo © Can Stock Photo.

Who Are Our Dogs?

Of course dogs have aged since the 2006 survey, but, overall, our dogs are older. Almost 48 percent of dogs covered by the survey were 6 or older, for a 9.1 percent increase since 2006. In 2001, 46.7 percent of the dogs were 6 or older, a similar percentage increase. In the current survey, 11.4 percent of the dogs had not yet hit their first birthdays, 40.9 percent were 1 to 5 years old; 33.2 percent were 6 to 10; and 14.7 percent were 11 or older. That means almost 15 percent of dogs in the U.S. have lived for a decade already.

Female dogs outnumber male dogs, but not by a lot. Fifty-one percent of dogs – about 3.6 million – are female, while 48.6 percent – or 3.4 million – are male.

As most of us know, smaller dogs have been more popular in recent years. According to the survey, small dogs make up 39.2 percent of the dog population; medium dogs, 33.4 percent; and large dogs, 27.3 percent.

Fifty-four percent of households have purebred dogs, and 46 percent, mixed breeds. However, 29.1 percent said they would get a mixed breed if they got another dog in the coming year. Almost 25 percent would get a purebred dog, and 46.1 percent said they “did not know” which they would get. In addition, 44.9 percent said they would get that dog from a shelter; 39.8 percent from a rescue group; 19.1 percent from a breeder; and 15.1 percent from a friend or relative.

Dogs that live in multi-dog homes see the veterinarian less frequently than “only dogs.” Photo © Can Stock Photo.

How Healthy Are Our Dogs?

“Among all pets, dogs represented 64.4 percent of total veterinary visits in 2011, with care for dogs representing the highest percentage of all veterinary expenditures,” the survey report reads. The average dog visits the veterinary office 1.6 times per year, up almost 7 percent from 2006. However, half of the households surveyed didn’t take one or more of their dogs to the vet at all during 2011 “because their dog wasn’t sick or injured.” Thirty percent said they didn’t go to the vet because they “couldn’t afford it.”

Of dog-owning households, 22.3 percent went to a veterinary clinic one time; 24.2 percent went twice; 11 percent, three times; 23.8 percent, four or more times; and 18.7 percent made no visits at all. “On average, households that owned dogs saw the veterinarian 2.6 times in 2011, the same as in 2006.”

The report also states, “Two-thirds of households believe routine checkups are very important for their dog to live a long and healthy life. Households that consider their pet part of the family took their dog to the veterinarian most frequently.”

Dogs living in homes with other canines receive less frequent veterinary care.

The use of drugs and medication went down 3 percent between 2006 and 2011.

Each dog-owning household on average spent $378 on veterinary care in 2011, “mainly for physical exams, vaccinations, drugs or medications,” $227 per dog and $146 per clinic visit. Despite its popularity as a topic of conversation, just 6 percent of dog owners have pet insurance.

The survey also found that “households that considered dogs to be family members spent 1.6 times more on veterinary expenditures ($438) per household than those that considered their dogs to be pets/companions ($266) and 2.3 times more than those that considered their dogs to be property ($190).”

And, despite the fact that the fifth annual veterinary study on pet weight done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 53 percent of adult dogs are overweight or obese, 85.7 percent of households responding to the AVMA survey say their dogs are of average weight. Just 12 percent classified their dogs as overweight. Clearly there’s a disconnect between what veterinarians see in their exam rooms and what dog owners perceive in their own dogs. Underweight dogs were reported in 2.3 percent of the households surveyed.

“While pet owners contend that visits to the veterinarian are very important, their actions are not backing up their words,” states the survey’s executive summary. “The percent of pet-owning households making no trip at all to the veterinarian in 2011 increased by 8 percent for dogs and a staggering 24 percent for cats.” It goes on to say that while veterinary spending has remained strong since 2006, presumably through increased fees, it is expected to “flatten in 2012.”

Every five years, the AVMA, based in Schaumburg, Ill., contracts a survey of pet ownership and demographics in the United States. The most recent iteration was conducted in February and March 2012, and the results released on Jan. 15, 2013. The AVMA hired Irwin Broh Research to distribute 222,244 surveys, which were emailed for the first time in the survey’s history. Households receiving a survey were “randomly selected from the panel of TNS Custom Research Inc.,” according to the methodology section of the survey, “to be representative of all U.S. households with respect to market size, age of head of household, household size and income within each of the nine U.S. Census regions. The sample was selected to match U.S. Census figures for family versus non-family households.”

A little more than 22 percent of households completed the questionnaires used in the analysis. The questionnaire included a request that the person most responsible for pet care and at least 18 years old fill it out. “The main focus of the survey was to collect data pertaining to types of pets owned and the number of pets owned anytime during the year and, as of December 31, 2011, to determine population estimates and veterinary use and expenditures,” according to the AVMA.

Copies of the “U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook” are available for $315 each (non-member price) from the American Veterinary Medical Association.