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The Ruff Report: Which pet is most likely to be considered family member?

More dog owners consider their pets to be family members than owners of other kinds of pets - such as cats, birds and horses - and the trend of the beloved pooch being considered a full-fledged family member is gaining traction, a survey shows.

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Two-thirds of dog owners say they view their pooch as a member of the family, according to a American Veterinary Medical Association survey of pet owners, a jump from the one-half who felt that way five years earlier, the previous time the AVMA conducted the survey.

The survey also found that fewer owners of cats, birds and horses feel the same family-member bond with their pets. Cat owners are the second most likely to consider their pets as family members while horse owners are the least likely to fell strong family ties with their pets. Those who own birds also are less inclined to feel strong family affection toward their pet.

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What this survey makes clear is that the wonderful, magical, emotional bond between humans and their companion animals is getting stronger, and that’s really good news,” AVMA President Douglas Aspros, states in a media release. “We know that pets offer unique emotional, psychological and physical health benefits to their owners."

The AVMA survey conducted in 2011 found:
  • 66.7 percent of dog owners view their pet as a member of the family compared with 53.5 percent in 2006. 
  • 56.1 percent of cat owners view their pet as a member of the family compared with 49.2 percent in 2006. 
  • 41 percent of bird owners view their pet as a member of the family compared with 51.3 percent in 2006.
  • 35 percent of horse owners view their pet as a member of the family compared with 38.4 percent in 2006.
The survey found a surprising dichotomy in owners' growing affection for their dogs and cats and veterinary care. Owners are feeling stronger emotional ties to their pets, yet they are making fewer visits to the veterinarian's office.

The percentage of dog owning households that made no trips to the veterinarian increased by 8 percent from 2006 to 2011. Overall, about 81 percent of dog-owning households made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 1.7 percent from 2006.

The downturn in veterinary visits for cat owners was even more extreme. The number of cat owning households that made no trips at all to the veterinarian increase by 24 percent from 2006 to 2011. Overall, 55.1 percent of cat owners made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 13.5 percent from 2006.

"Unfortunately, ... people aren’t providing for their pet's medical care by bringing their pets into the veterinarian as often as they should," Dr. Aspros states. "That trend is worrisome, not only in terms of the pet’s health but in terms of public health.”

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The Ruff Report's dogs and surveys Home page

However, owners who view their dogs and cats as family members are far more likely to seek veterinary care for their companions, the survey found. Dog owners who replied that they consider their pooch a family member brought their pet to the veterinarian's office more than twice as many times as those who describe their dog as property. Similarly, cat owners brought their felines to the veterinarian's office three times as often if they saw their pet as a family member instead of property.

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The Ruff Report is a column that appears on MySetterSam.com, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on Createspace.com and Amazon.com.

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