Understanding the Data

Obtaining accurate statistical data about pets in the United States isn’t easy. Most of the information is based on estimates derived from surveys, and the various survey-takers don’t always agree. Data reflecting shelter/rescue animal populations is spotty due to a lack of reporting requirements, which leaders in animal welfare are aiming to address with the Shelter Animals Count project.

There are two main sources of pet demographics in the United States: the biennial APPA National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, and the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) which is published every five years. Together these surveys provide data about trends in pet ownership and produce a reasonably accurate estimate of the total number of dogs and cats.

The Numbers - Pet Ownership

For the most up-to-date numbers on pet ownership and acquisition, visit AnimalSheltering.org

Pet Ownership Estimates from Underserved Communities

While the figures referenced previously tend to reflect “mainstream America,” the Pets for Life team of the HSUS has spent years working in, and collecting data from, our nation’s most underserved communities which lack affordable, accessible pet care. We have found startling differences in pet ownership. People living in these communities love their pets as much as pet owners anywhere else in the nation. However, they don’t have access to veterinary care, spay/neuter providers and other services most Americans take for granted, and this difference is reflected in the data:

  • Pets living in underserved communities in the U.S.: 23 million
  • Percentage of pets living in underserved communities who are not spayed or neutered: 87%
  • Percentage of pets living in underserved communities who have never seen a veterinarian: 77%

Community Cat Estimates

Cats are divided into three distinct populations—those who are personal pets, those being cared for by shelters and rescues and those who live their lives out in our communities. Community cats are friendly stray or abandoned cats as well as feral (unsocialized) cats. These cats are unowned, but may be provided with food, water and/or shelter by caring individuals. The HSUS advocates for a trap-neuter-return approach to humanely managing community cats.

  • Estimated number of community cats in the U.S.: 30 to 40 million
  • Percentage of community cats who are spayed/neutered: 2%
  • Percentage of new kittens born each year produced by community cats: 80%
  • Percentage of people who believe leaving a community cat outdoors is preferable to having him or her caught and euthanized: 81%
  • Percentage of people providing food for community cats: 10 to 12%

Shelter & Rescue Group Estimates for 2014

Accurate data from shelters and rescue groups is difficult to obtain because there is no central data reporting system for these institutions, and most states don’t require reporting. The HSUS is working with a wide variety of stakeholders to change this through Shelter Animals Count, an initiative formed to create and share a national database of sheltered animal statistics, providing facts and enabling insights that will save lives. In the meantime, here are the best estimates of the Humane Society of the United States:

  • Estimated number of brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the US: 3,500
  • Estimated number of rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in North America: 10,000
  • Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year: 6-8 million (down from 13 million in 1973)
  • Of the 3 million cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year, approximately 2.4 million (80%) are healthy and treatable and could have been adopted into new homes
  • Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters: 25%
  • Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year: 4 million
  • Percentage of cats euthanized in shelters: 70%
  • Percentage of total shelter intake comprised of cats: Approximately 50% (but in some regions 2/3 of shelter population is cats)
  • Estimated amount spent by humane organizations annually: $2.5 billion (about $8 per capita)
  • Estimated amount spent by animal control organizations annually: $800 million to $1 billion (about $4 per capita)

Efforts like The Shelter Pet Project are helping to increase the number of pets adopted from shelters and rescues, as opposed to from inhumane sources like puppy mills.