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Should Pets be counted?

In 1998 there were 4 million dogs and 2.6 million cats in Australia according to Petnet, an information service sponsored by the pet food industry. The last time the ABS studied pet numbers was in 1994 in Australian Social Trends. The numbers recorded there were 3.13 million dogs and 2.48 million cats. The increase in cats and dogs from 1994 to 1998 was 4%pa over the 4 years versus population growth of 1.2%pa.

Similar trends are evident from the US. This weeks Forbes magazine reports 2001 statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. They show a 7.4%pa increase on pet spending over 1998-2001 and a 5.5%pa increase over 1994-98. In the USA 39% of households own a dog and 34% own a cat. For Australia the figures are 40% with a dog and 26% with a cat and 53% with one of either.

With declining households with babies, this raises the question of whether demographers should be counting pets. Certainly the increased numbers are equally significant to birth rates and immigration rates and there are financial and environmental impacts from pets just like from people. There are also significant health and social impacts to asses from the comfort and companionship provided by pets for people without carers. Maybe the next Census should ask a few questions about people and their pets.

Posted Monday, 4 March 2002

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