The Two Most Popular Pets, Are You in the 38 or 25 Percent Group?

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet ownership

Story at-a-glance -

  • As of 2016, close to 57 percent of U.S. households owned a pet, with dogs coming in as the most popular pet
  • About 38 percent of households owned one or more dogs, which is the highest rate since 1982
  • Cats ranked as the second most popular pet, with 25 percent of households sharing their home with one
  • A sizeable number of households choose more exotic pets, including ferrets, rabbits, fish, lizards, snakes, and even chickens and livestock; ownership of exotic pets came in at 13 percent of U.S. households, which is a 25 percent increase from 2011

It’s confirmed! The U.S. is a pet-loving nation, with the majority of households owning a pet. The most recent statistics are the result of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) 2017-2018 “Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook,” which surveyed 50,000 U.S. households.1

Specifically, as of 2016, close to 57 percent of U.S. households owned a pet, with dogs coming in as the most popular pet. About 38 percent of households owned one or more dogs, which is the highest rate since 1982, when AVMA first started keeping track. Cats came in second, with 25 percent of households sharing their home with one.

Increase in Exotic Pets Reported

While dogs and cats are the most popular U.S. pets, a sizeable number of households choose more exotic pets, including ferrets, rabbits, fish, lizards, snakes, and even chickens and livestock.

Ownership of exotic pets came in at 13 percent of U.S. households, which is a 25 percent increase from 2011, AVMA reported, adding, “The incidence of poultry owned as pets climbed 23 percent in five years, with 1.1 percent of all U.S. households now claiming poultry as pets.”2

What’s more, the popularity of different pets varies by state, according to a separate study by TrustedHousesitters.3 They analyzed more than 3.5 million posts made on social media to reveal the most talked-about pets by state. For instance, in Illinois pet lovers talked most about bulldogs, Persian cats, ferrets, snakes and birds, while in California, Chihuahuas, rabbits and lizards were favorite topics of conversation.

The increase in exotic pet ownership coincides with an increase of pet sitters welcoming specialty pets. According to Pet Sitters International (PSI), an educational association for professional pet sitters and dog walkers, the percentage of pet sitters caring for fish rose from 61 percent in 2016 to nearly 83 percent in 2018.4

As for cage pets, including guinea pigs and hamsters, this rose from 57.5 percent in 2016 to nearly 80 percent in 2018. Those caring for birds rose similarly, from 61 percent to 78.3 percent, while those caring for reptiles and amphibians grew from 39 percent to 61.5 percent. Other categories also increased:

  • Livestock, from 26 percent to 38 percent
  • Horses, from 20 percent to 28 percent
  • Exotic pets, from 3 percent to 7.6 percent

Rural Versus Urban: Where Do More Pets Live?

The AVMA study also broke down pet ownership according to rural and urban locales, revealing that people in rural states own more pets. As broken down by an AVMA press release,5 the states with the most pets were as follows:

Wyoming (72 percent)

West Virginia (71 percent)

Nebraska (70 percent)

Vermont (70 percent)

Idaho (70 percent)

Indiana (69 percent)

Arkansas (69 percent)

Mississippi (65 percent)

Oklahoma (65 percent)

Colorado (65 percent)

In contrast, urban states with the lowest percentage of pets included:

Rhode Island (45 percent)

South Dakota (46 percent)

New York (50 percent)

New Jersey (47 percent)

Maryland (49 percent)

Illinois (49 percent)

Massachusetts (49 percent)

Connecticut (50 percent)

Georgia (51 percent)

New Hampshire (52 percent)

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Dogs Versus Cats: Who Visits the Vet More Often?

Discrepancies were also noted in how often pets visit their veterinarian, with dogs coming out on the higher end. Dog owners visited the veterinarian with their pet an average of three times in 2016 compared to 2.4 times for cat owners. Dr. John de Jong, president of the AVMA, said in a press release:6

"This is a fascinating look into the world of pets as well as the people and veterinarians who love and care for them. Examining current trends in pet ownership and care provides our members with information they can use to better serve their clients and protect the health and welfare of their pets."

For those wondering, cats need veterinary care just as much as dogs. Ideally, I recommend semi-annual (twice-yearly) visits to your holistic veterinarian for all pets, with more frequent visits if you’re dealing with medical issues. This schedule allows your veterinarian to uncover changes in your pet’s health, which can occur in a short period of time.

Both dogs and cats are masters at hiding signs of illness, so it may not be obvious that they need medical attention. A twice-yearly visit allows your veterinarian the opportunity to monitor changes and make recommendations for prevention and minor treatment before your pet gets sick.

Cat owners may be more reluctant to take their kitty to the vet because some cats are petrified of the vet, and getting them into the carrier may be an ordeal (not to mention struggling through the visit). If this sounds familiar, be sure to read my 10 steps for fear-free vet visits. No. 1 on the list to keep your pet calm on vet appointment days is to use pheromones — Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats — calming nutraceuticals and carrier covers.

Products I use, always in conjunction with behavior modification, include homeopathic aconitum or Hyland's Calms Forte, Bach Rescue Remedy or a Spirit Essences stress or fear blend. Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that I've found helpful include holy basil (tulsi), valerian, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile.

I also recommend performing regular at-home physical exams on your pet, which will help you keep on top of what’s normal (or abnormal) for your animal. This is a good way to spot potential problems that need attention, particularly if you can only visit your veterinarian once a year.

Owning a Pet May Be Part of Human Nature

There are many reasons to own a pet, such as their unconditional love and ability to relieve stress (and even save you money on health care!). But according to one expert, John Bradshaw, Ph.D., an honorary research fellow at the University of Bristol in England, it may be that pets play an important role in making us human.

In his book, “The Animals Among Us,” he argues that “pet-keeping is a human universal,” something that’s been going on since ancient times and offers us a deep sense of intrinsic satisfaction, something that’s difficult to put into words but is understood by many nonetheless.7

This explains why, despite pets costing money and time to care for, it’s more common to own a pet in the U.S. than to not — it may be a fundamental aspect of being human.