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Special Feature: Household pets
In 1994, the most common pets were birds (6.0 million), fish (4.3 million), dogs (3.1 million) and cats (2.5 million). Although more birds and fish were kept than dogs or cats, more households had a dog (38%) or cat (27%) than had a bird (16%) or fish (9%). This is because people who keep birds or fish are more likely to keep several of them than people who keep dogs or cats. 57% of households who kept fish and 35% of households who kept birds had three or more compared to 4% of households who kept dogs and 9% of households who kept cats. Some of the more unusual pets were spiders, frogs and peacocks.
Households with young children (aged 0-4) only were less likely to keep pets than households with school-age children. The proportion of households with pets generally increased with the age of the oldest child. Three-quarters of households where the oldest child was aged 10-14 kept pets.
Married couples with dependants were most likely of all household family types to have pets. A half of these households owned a dog, a third owned a cat and a fifth owned birds. People aged 60 or more who lived alone were least likely to have a dog (16%).
PET OWNERSHIP, 1994
PROPORTION OF HOUSEHOLDS WITH PETS, 1994
Source: Population Survey Monitor
HOUSEHOLDS BY TYPE OF PET, 1994
Dogs and cats
Dwelling type and available space may influence the type of pet a household keeps. 43% of households living in a separate house owned a dog and 30% owned a cat. Households not living in separate houses were slightly more likely to have owned cats than dogs.
Households with only one cat were likely to have obtained it from either friends, relatives, or neighbours (41%), or as strays (20%). 33% of households with only one dog obtained it from friends, relatives, or neighbours and 26% obtained it from a breeder. Households with more than one cat or dog were likely to have obtained their second pet from the litter of an existing or previous pet. There was a higher proportion of pedigree dogs (43%) than pedigree cats (11%). Half of the households who owned a pedigree dog or cat obtained it from a breeder.
Nearly half of Australian households did not keep cats or dogs. The most common reasons given for not keeping cats or dogs was that they were too much bother (22% of households), the terms of their lease (17%), dogs and cats restricted other activities (15%) and because their cat or dog had died (15%).
82% of households had previously owned a cat or dog. 74% of households who did not currently have pets had previously kept a cat or dog. 12% of households with cats or dogs had never kept them before.
REASONS DOGS HAVE NOT BEEN NEUTERED, 1994
Source: Population Survey Monitor
Responsibilities of owning a pet
The responsibility of owning a pet can be large in financial terms as well as in time expended on their care. One of the largest initial outlays is having a pet immunised and neutered. In 1994, three-quarters of the domestic cats in Australia had been neutered, compared to just over half of the dogs. The Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportions of neutered cats and dogs, and Tasmania had the lowest.
The most common reason why cats had not been neutered was the expense (46%). For dogs, the most common reason was that they were used for breeding (27%).
Unless cats are neutered they have great potential for rapid increase in population numbers. Cats can have three litters a year, with an average of five kittens per litter1. The rapid reproduction of cats in urban areas contributes to the large numbers of stray cats that are put down by animal welfare agencies each year.
Another large cost involved in owning a pet is feeding. Australians spent $36.3 million per week on feeding and caring for their cats and dogs in 1994. Households with only cats spent on average $6 per week to feed and care for each cat, compared to $10 per week spent on each dog by households with only dogs. 85% of cats were fed mainly commercial pet food, compared to 70% of dogs. Of the cats and dogs fed specially prepared fresh food, 22% of the cats and 57% of the dogs were pedigree.
Australian households also spent 2.5 million hours caring for, grooming and exercising their cats and dogs. Households who kept only cats spent on average 38 minutes per day caring for, grooming and exercising pedigree cats and 25 minutes per day on non-pedigree cats. Dogs take more time to care for and, in particular, to exercise. Households with only dogs spent on average 50 minutes per day caring for, grooming and exercising their dog.
An important responsibility for pet owners is controlling their cat's or dog's behaviour, especially when children are around. Children under four years old are at higher risk of being bitten by a dog or cat than older children. This possibly reflects the fact that younger children are more likely than older children to be at home with the family pet. A recent study by the National Injury Surveillance Unit2 indicated that children aged 2-4 years were the highest risk group, with dog and cat bite injuries amounting to 2% of all injuries. Less than 1% of all injuries to children under 1 year old were by cats and dogs, with dogs responsible for 87% of them. Most of the injuries occurred at home, bites were the most common injury and the head was the most frequently injured part of the body. The Victorian Injury Surveillance System reported in 19923 that a quarter of dog bite injury cases occurred in public areas.
WEEKLY HOUSEHOLD EXPENDITURE ON CATS AND DOGS, 1994
Source: Population Survey Monitor
The Australian Nature Conservation Agency estimates that the average domestic cat kills about 25 native animals a year. This implies about 75 million native animals are destroyed by domestic cats each year1.
One way to stop cats from hunting is to stop them from roaming. In 1994, only 26% of domestic cats were confined both during the day and night, compared to 88% of dogs. Cat curfews are now being considered as a means of reducing the number of native animals killed. The Shire of Sherbrooke in Victoria was the first shire in Australia to have introduced a local law to control cats1. The Cat and Dog Management Act 1994 was proclaimed as South Australian law in March 1995.
Stray cats and dogs can be a considerable nuisance to householders and a potential source of disease to their own pets. 36% of households said that stray dogs and/or cats were a problem on their property. South Australia had the largest proportion of households with stray cat problems (32%), followed closely by the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia and Victoria (each 31%). The Australian Capital Territory (24%) and Tasmania (23%) had the largest proportion of households with stray dog problems.
The scale of the problem of stray and dumped animals is well known to the RSPCA. Their shelters received 104,192 animals in 1993-94, 10% less than in the previous financial year.
These animals included 43,762 dogs and 42,126 cats. 19% of the dogs were reclaimed and 50% were put down. In contrast, 3% of cats were reclaimed and 74% were put down. In 1993-94 there were about 20% fewer dogs and cats received than in 1992-93. There were a further 18,304 other animals surrendered which included possums, birds, lizards, sheep, goats and fairy penguins4.
NEUTERED AND STRAY CATS AND DOGS, 1994
1 Australian Nature Conservation Agency (1994) Cats in Australia.
2 National Injury Surveillance Unit (1994) Injuries to children aged less than 12 months from dogs and cats.
3 Victorian Injury Surveillance System (1992) Hazard.
4 RSPCA Australia (1995) 1000 pets put down every week by RSPCA RSPCA Media Release.