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Reigning Cats, Not Dogs: Survey Finds Vermont Leads Nation Again in Feline Ownership

  • Deb Dupuis, of Quechee, left, and Liz Prohaska, of White River Junction, watch their dogs Silas and Wyatt play at the Watson Dog Park in Hartford last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Deb Dupuis, of Quechee, left, and Liz Prohaska, of White River Junction, watch their dogs Silas and Wyatt play at the Watson Dog Park in Hartford last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brianna Rioux puts the finishing touches on Angel at Clean Paws Grooming at West Lebanon Feed and Supply last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Brianna Rioux puts the finishing touches on Angel at Clean Paws Grooming at West Lebanon Feed and Supply last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Deb Dupuis, of Quechee, left, and Liz Prohaska, of White River Junction, watch their dogs Silas and Wyatt play at the Watson Dog Park in Hartford last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Brianna Rioux puts the finishing touches on Angel at Clean Paws Grooming at West Lebanon Feed and Supply last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Lebanon — Cats rule in Vermont, dogs drool in New Hampshire, owners are bringing their pets to the vet less often, and pets are generally fatter than their owners believe.

Those are some of the conclusions to be drawn from results of a national survey released by the American Veterinary Medical Association last week, ranking Vermont first in the nation for per-household cat ownership and pet ownership overall.

About half of Vermonters own a cat, according to the association, and three in four own some kind of fuzzy friend.

New Hampshire is also fond of its felines, taking the No. 10 spot for cat ownership — but the Granite State fell into the bottom 10 category for dog ownership, with only a third of its residents harboring a hound.

The results compiled in the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook showed a continued national decline in veterinary visits, which stands out to the American Veterinary Medical Association, said spokesman Tom McPheron.

Since the survey was last conducted in 2006, the percentage of households that never take their dogs to the vet increased by 8 percent. For cats, that number grew by 24 percent.

For vets, that’s a concern because diseases can develop much faster in pets than in people.

“Most people know that human years is roughly equivalent to seven years for a pet, and that’s not exactly true, but it’s a good way of looking at it,” he said. “So if you bring your dog or cat into the veterinary once a year, it’s equivalent of you going to see your doctor once every seven years.”

Plus, pets are inclined to keep their bumps, bruises and ailments secret — a natural instinct hard-wired from the days when showing a weakness could get you eaten.

“In the wild, if an animal is wounded, it makes them seem like easy prey for a predator, so pets have maintained that habit of hiding symptoms,” McPheron said. “So you may think you know your pet perfectly well, but your pet may be hiding those symptoms from you.”

The recession could be part of the problem, McPheron said, although veterinary visits have been on the decline for many years. More than a quarter of households spent no money on veterinary visit expenditures in 2011, but nearly 10 percent spent $1,000 or more. A large chunk of the population — about 24 percent of households — spent between $200 to $499.

Walking three small dogs in the downtown Lebanon area last week, neighbors Cheri Bryer and Stephen Miller said they take their pooches to the vet — but, Miller added, “that’s not to say it’s always easy to come up with the money.”

He recently spent $170 on ear mites medication for 3½-year-old Buddy, a Dachshund.

“That’s one thing I’m concerned about, if something catastrophic were to happen,” he said. He’s considered purchasing pet insurance, but it’s “not exactly what you’d call cheap,” he said.

He and Bryer’s two dogs — Oliver, a 2-year-old Dachshund, and Bina, a 6-month-old Dachshund-Chihuahua mix known as a “chiweenie” — range from 16 to 17 pounds, but should probably be closer to 14 pounds each, they said.

While Miller and Bryer are aware that their pups are packing extra pounds, many pet owners are

According to the Sourcebook, “most pet owners claim their pet is of average weight. However, studies completed in the past five years reveal a dramatic increase in overweight cats and dogs, potentially leading to serious illnesses.”

More than 74 million households owned pets at some point in 2011, according to the survey, and more than 63 percent of households considered their pets to be part of the family. New Mexico and South Dakota followed Vermont in pet ownership, while Massachusetts was the state with fewest pets per household at 50.4 percent. The District of Columbia lagged even farther at about 22 percent.

But, the important question: What makes Vermonters purr, and why do pooches appear less popular in New Hampshire? Shane Howard, manager at Steve’s Pet Shoppe in Lebanon, shrugged and laughed in the Mechanic Street store yesterday. Folks from both sides of the Connecticut River shop there, he said, and he figured the numbers would be higher for dogs because of the area’s affinity for hunting.

“Got me,” he said. “The disparity between Vermont and New Hampshire — you’d think Twin States, twin results.”

Veterinarians at Small Animal Veterinary Emergency Services in Lebanon and River Road Veterinary Clinic in Norwich said their patients are evenly split between the Twin States. Lebanon Pet and Aquarium sales clerk Tracey Doolittle said the same thing about her store’s customers. McPheron, of the American Veterinary Medical Association, noted that Vermont retained the No. 1 spot from the association’s previous survey, released in 2006. The results, culled from questionnaires completed by more than 50,000 American households, are used by the Census to track the number of pets in American households. “Pets are pretty popular in Vermont. It’s hard to speculate why … but you do see trends over time,” he said.

Soaking up the limelight in the parking lot at Dan and Whit’s in Norwich last week was Face, a 5-year-old, 125-pound short-haired Saint Bernard who lives in Hartland. As she lounged outside her four-wheel-drive pickup truck, a parade of passersby came over to scratch her head and admire her size.

And yes — it’s Face’s truck, said owner James Brower. Because of all the dog hair that Face sheds, “you can’t pick up anyone in this truck,” he said. “This is hers.”

The decision to get a dog was somewhat spontaneous, he said. When his wife brought home a giant, hairy, slobbering dog named Faith a few years ago, he told her, “You are not bringing that thing in the house,” he recalled.

Three years and a name change later, the pair are inseparable.

“She goes with me everywhere,” Brower said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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