Our pet population is shrinking.
Americans had 2 million fewer dogs and 7.6 million fewer cats at the end of last year than at the end of 2006, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says.
The reasons are both economic and demographic as fewer Americans live in families, which are more likely to own pets.
Most pet owners have dogs: about 70 million of them in 36.5% of U.S. homes. Cats, at 74 million, are in 30.4% of homes.
It's the first decline in dog or cat households since 1991.
"It's clearly the economy," says Karen Felsted of Felsted Veterinary Consultants, in Richardson, Texas. She presented the findings at the vets association's national meeting in San Diego this week. "The percentage of households that owned at least one pet was down 2.4%." That's 2.8 million households that became petless. "It's a significant number," she says.
The number of pets of all kinds had been rising steadily since at least 1986, when AVMA began doing its twice-a-decade count. But from 2006 to 2011 it declined.
One factor: When older pets die, people are less likely to replace them, possibly because they can't afford to, says Ron DeHaven, CEO of the vets association.
Changing demographics also plays a role, says Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York.
Pet ownership tends to be more common in families that include two parents and children. Single people, couples without children and older people are less likely to have pets. As America moves away from the mom-dad-two-kids household, he says, pet numbers decline.
"There's an old saying," he says: "Retirement starts when the last kid leaves home and the last dog dies."
The numbers are from the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. It is based on a survey of 50,000 households conducted every five years by the AVMA.
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY