Singles increasingly turn to pets for sense of family

A recent American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) survey shows that singles — both those never married and those recently separated or divorced — are increasingly turning to pets for love and a sense of family.

According to AVMA’s U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, it’s still more common for a pet to be owned by a family, but pet ownership among single people increased by 16.6% from 2006 to 2011, and is now 54.7%. That compares to just 1.37% growth in pet ownership for families, to 66.4% now.

More view pets as family members

The study also indicates that singles are more likely to identify pets as members of the family, rather than companions or property.

“It’s interesting to see that more and more single people are discovering the comfort and satisfaction that owning a pet can offer,” said Dr. Douglas Aspros, AVMA president. “Pets are powerful, positive influences on our lives, offering unique emotional, psychological and physical health benefits to their owners.”

Less vet care is a trend

Despite these per ownership trends, people aren’t bringing their pets into the veterinarian as often as they should, according to Aspros.

“That trend is worrisome, not only in terms of the pet’s health but in terms of public health,” he said. “Families, no matter what size, need to bring their pets into the veterinarian — at least once a year — to maintain optimal health.”

The Sourcebook indicates that, between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of households that made no trips at all to the veterinarian increased by 8% for dog owners and a staggering 24% for cat owners.

Overall, about 81% of dog-owning households made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, while only 55.1% of cat owners made at least one visit to the veterinarian that year.

More male pet owners

Pet ownership was up especially among people who were divorced, widowed or separated. That group saw a 17.7% increase from 2006 to 2011, to 60.4% now. Even more impressive, pet ownership among single men increased by 27.7%.

“For now, it’s true that more single women own pets than single men, but this survey shows us that this may be changing,” Aspros said. “By understanding these demographic trends better, the AVMA wants to help veterinarians to better serve our clients and keep pets healthy.”

Preventive veterinary care

In 2011, more than a quarter of pet owning households (25.5%) didn’t visit the veterinarian at all, according to the Sourcebook, which was an increase from 22.3% in 2006.

This reduction in veterinary visits suggests that more pets are going without annual veterinary examinations and treatments to prevent common health problems. According to the AVMA, this could mean that many pet owners will wind up paying more for veterinary care.

Prevention is the best cure, and it’s also often the least expensive, AVMA officials said.

The cost of avoiding care

According to a Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. study of its records, the average cost per pet to prevent dental disease is $171.82, but the average cost to treat dental diseases after it’s already begun per pet is $531.71 — over three times the cost of prevention.

Similarly, it costs just $29.51 on average to prevent internal parasites per pet, but the average cost to treat a pet with internal parasites is $179.93 — over six times the cost of prevention.

In addition to the potential increased costs, less preventive care for pets means more pets will suffer with health issues.

About the AVMA

The AVMA, founded in 1863, has more than 84,000 member veterinarians worldwide.

The U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook offers information on pet ownership, pet owner profiles, trends, veterinary medical use and expenditures. For a copy of the publication or for general AVMA information, go to