Humans aren't the only consumers: their pets have healthy appetites, too. Americans care for about 59 million cats, 53 million dogs, 13 million birds, 4 million horses, 6 million rabbits and ferrets, 5 million rodents, 3.5 million reptiles and 56 million fish. That's according to a study taken in 1996 by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Most U.S. households (59 percent) own at least one of these animals, but pet spending rates vary greatly from place to place, partly because of demographics.
This map shows the propensity of households in each U.S. county to spend on a pet, based on a model created by CACI, a market research company in Arlington, Virginia. Counties in red are 22 to 29 percent more likely than the U.S. county average to spend on pets. Those in light blue are 14 to 21 percent more likely than average; those in dark blue are 5 to 13 percent more likely; and those in beige are less likely than average to spend on a pet, or have an average likelihood of doing so.
Non-metropolitan counties such as (1) Edmonson, Kentucky, claim the highest numbers of pet spenders, and not only because such places have more open space. Many rural counties are loaded with the household type most likely to spend on pets. Some 79 percent of parents with school-age children load up on kibble, collars and scratching posts, compared with 71 percent of parents with younger or older children, 72 percent of roommate households and 73 percent of young childless couples. In contrast, only 30 percent of older singles spend on pets, and only 41 percent of retired couples. That's why households in a retirement Mecca like (2) Sarasota County, Florida, are 12 percent less likely than average to shop the "chow chow chow" aisles at the local supermarket.
Pets may make life worth living, but they cost extra. Only 48 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $12,000 spend money to keep a pet, compared with 61 percent of middle-income households ($25,000 to $39,999) and 65 percent of households with incomes of $40,000 or more, according to the AVMA. Households are unlikely to spend on pets in the nation's poorest counties, such as (3) Rosebud Sioux Reservation (Shannon County, South Dakota). But in (4) Spotsylvania County, Virginia, a landscape of small farms and new housing developments on the fringe of the Washington, D.C.-Richmond Corridor, households are 21 percent more likely than average to spend on their pets.
Owning a pet doesn't have to be expensive, unless you want the best-and the rich often do. In some affluent counties, the likelihood that residents will spend money on pets is low, but those who do spend don't mind ponying up the big bucks. Households in (5) Westchester County, New York, are 6 percent less likely than the U.S. average to spend, but they rank among the highest in the potential for per-household spending on pets. It's easy to spend a lot when a kennel costs $50 a day and grooming is $45 per week for your $700 purebred bichon frise.
As the population ages, the proportion of pet-owning households is declining. In 1996, according to the AVMA, about 27 percent of U.S. households owned a cat, down from 31 percent in 1987. Yet households that do have pets are likely to own more of them now than they did a decade ago. The average number of dogs in a dog-owning household was 1.69 in 1996, up from 1.51 in 1987, and the average number of cats owned per household was 2.19, up from 1.95. As a result, the total number of dogs owned increased from 52.4 million in 1987 to 52.9 million in 1996, and the number of pet cats increased from 54.6 million to 59.1 million.
Women are responsible for pet care in 72 percent of pet-owning households. Their shopping lists vary from place to place. Households in chilly New England are 63 percent more likely to purchase kitty litter compared to the average U.S. household, according to Mediamark Research in New York City. Those in the sunny Southeast are 54 percent less likely than average to buy litter. But Southern households are also less likely than average to buy flea spray, even though flea infestations there are the worst in the nation. So pity the poor yard dog, and pass the Purina.