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Pet ownership in the UK: where do we stand in 2013

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FOR any business, it is vital to understand the size of the market that they are operating in. For the veterinary business, this is obviously the number of animals that are out there, the number of clients they can hope to attract and how those clients engage in pet healthcare with their vet practice.

So how many pets are there in the UK? Data on the precise number of pets are hard to quantify and, with no database listing them, can only be estimated from questionnaires and surveys. Not all the data that are gathered are consistent, making it even harder to identify trends.

Euromonitor, a respected source used by the pharmaceutical industry to estimate dog and cat numbers across Europe, estimates the current UK dog and cat populations to be 8.8 million each.

Looking back over the past eight years, we can see that these numbers have become consistent in the past four with any change being less than 1 per cent.

The Euromonitor data on pet numbers is supported by similar from Datamonitor; this reports that only 25 per cent of pet owners have insurance for their small animals and that in 2012 UK pet insurers paid out £452 million to cover veterinary costs (Association of British Insurers).

While the number of pets is important, of equal importance is the proportion of households owning a pet and their attitude towards the provision of healthcare for those pets.

Currently, the 2013 CEESA survey of pet ownership suggests that 41 per cent of UK households own at least one dog and/or cat, with 30 per cent owning a dog and 24 per cent a cat.

The CEESA survey also provides us with information on the healthcare behaviour of these pet owners with 83 per cent of dog owners saying they go to the vet at least once a year and 53 per cent going often. For cat owners, 65 per cent say they go to the vet at least once a year and 34 per cent go often.

While some surveys suggest that spend on preventive healthcare may have declined due to the recent economic situation; others, such as the Mintel report, inform us that UK household's spend on their pets has increased 14 per cent since 2004 with the greatest increase being for veterinary services (47 per cent).

The British consider themselves a nation of animal lovers; this must mean that we have a high ratio of pet owning households compared with other nations.

Numbers of cats and dogs in the UK (2005-2013). Source: Euromonitor

Not so. Across Europe, on average, 42 per cent of households own a pet, reaching a maximum of 49 per cent in France.

What about our cousins across the Atlantic? Americans have an average of 1.25 pets per households compared to our 0.73.

An interesting, if worrying, statistic is that the American Veterinary Medical Association considers there to be a 12.5 per cent oversupply of vets in the USA. This is a market with a potential capacity for 102,666 full-time employed small animal vets with 81,180 actual registrations of all vets.

In the UK, from taking data from the RCVS, Zoetis have calculated that we have a capacity for 11,733 full-time employed small animal vets with 15,043 actual registrations for all vets; that is 28 per cent over capacity.

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