When It Comes To U.S. Pet Stats, Consider The Source

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Here’s the thing about “facts.” They can be manipulated — and it happens all of the time. An individual or group with a specific agenda either does a study or commissions one that will prove their point or advance their cause. And the sad thing is that most Americans take these “facts” on face value.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Call me a cynic, a skeptic, or just an ex-journalist. But I don’t take anything on face value — even U.S. pet statistics. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I recently came across an interesting article questioning the validity of the data.

When the numbers don’t add up

The Washington Post article compared and contrasted U.S. pet ownership data for 2016 published by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The APPA indicated that 68 percent of U.S. households owned some sort of pet that year, and that dogs (90 million) and cats (94 million) accounted for most of the pets. On the other hand, the AVMA reported only 57 percent of households had pets at the end of that year, and that the “overall pet population” during the time in question included included 77 million dogs and 58 million cats.

So what’s the big deal? Well, if you think about it, a lot of people base business and personal decisions on these statistics. As the Washington Post article notes, information about pet ownership and the types of people have is can potentially influence actions taken by pet companies, veterinarians, veterinary schools, not to mention millions of others.

Consequently, the use of vastly disparate data is bothersome to Andrew Rowan, a former chief executive of the Humane Society International and a longtime scholar of pet demographics. As he told the Post: “You can’t really make public policy decisions in the absence of data.”

There was too much excitement at Puttin' on the Dog for these little kittens!
We’re pooped! Hurricane Harvey kittens at Puttin’ on the Dog, 2017. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The Post article also suggests that more reliable data is available. Specifically, it cites the Simmons National Consumer Study, which conducts annual household surveys.  For 2018, it found that  53 percent of U.S. households owned pets, including at least 77 million dogs and 54 million cats.

Another source of pet ownership identified in the Post story is U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, which asked about pet ownership in 2013 and 2017. According to the Post, it “most recently reported that 49 percent of households included pets.”

How the Internet influences the outcome

In addition to examining the discrepancies in the APPA and AVMA data, the Post story addresses how these organizations came up with these numbers. Apparently the use of “opt-in” online surveys plays a significant part in the outcome — even though some experts have questioned their accuracy and recommended against their use.

Within this context, it is interesting to note that the APPA and AVMA  both relied on traditional mailed surveys until fairly recently, and the results changed significantly once they switched to Internet surveys.

An APPA representative quoted in the Post story confirmed that the organization “believes the switch from mail to web was responsible for the large increase,” and said “researchers sought to combat bias by tracking which types of people completed the survey.”

An AVMA representative also told the Post that its most recent report is “more sophisticated” than prior studies “because it targeted non-pet owners and weighted better for factors like geography and gender.”

An exercise in critical thinking

With all of that being stated, here’s how I evaluate any given set of “facts:”

  1. I consider who is presenting the “facts”
  2. I consider their agenda or objective
  3. I draw my own conclusions

It’s really not that hard. It’s simply an exercise in critical thinking.

A worthwhile investment: Americans spend billions on pets

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

“The pet humanization trend is alive and well and continues to drive growth at the premium end of the market.” – Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association

It’s old news by now. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s something that definitely bears repeating.

Last year, Americans spent a record-setting $60.28 billion on our pets. The total amount falls just a little bit short of the target set by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), but it is impressive nevertheless.

Money Matters

A breakdown provided by the APPA shows that we spent the most on pet food ($23.05 billion); followed by supplies and over-the-counter medications ($14.28 billion). Veterinary care accounted for $15.42 billion in expenditures. But the area that reflected the greatest growth in spending compared to 2014 was “other services.”

In a March 17 press release, the APPA explained just what this category covers. Items classified as “other services” include grooming, boarding, walking, training, pet sitting, exercise and yard services. Americans spent $5.41 billion on this sort of stuff last year, as compared to $4.84 billion in 2014, reflecting an 11.8 percent increase.

On the other hand, data provided by the APPA shows we bought fewer pets than we have in the past. The amount spent on “live animal purchases” dipped from $2.15 billion in 2014 to $2.12 billion last year.

Vetere said there are several explanations for the decline. One may be a “decline in pet types available from shelters or breeders.” Another is a “growing number of pet sale bans.” Finally, pets are living longer due to “improved healthcare,” Vetere added.

In My Humble Opinion

Personally, I would love to get another pet. But right now that’s simply out of the question. For one thing, Eli is definitely an “only child.” He’s also a handful.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As many of you know, he had a cancer scare earlier this year. Diagnosis and treatment required several trips to the veterinarian — including one for the surgical removal of a small tumor on his back — in just a few weeks. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly inexpensive — but it was definitely worthwhile. I am happy to say that the type of tumor he had was fairly benign and is unlikely to recur. I am also happy to say he’s made a complete recovery and is back to his feisty self.

Frankly I’ve lost count of how much we spend on food, cat litter, etc. I’ve also forgotten how much we spent on a live-in pet sitter when we went out of the country for three weeks last year — but that wasn’t exactly inexpensive either.

But at the end of the day, Eli is happy and healthy. And as far as I am concerned, that’s priceless.