Cats are the veterinarian’s future
1/ Cats: a golden opportunity for dog vets
A) Quantitative aspects
Small animal veterinary medicine developed progressively from the second half of the 20th century and in the early days was primarily aimed at dogs. This is illustrated by the formation of the various small animal veterinary associations across the world: the United States led the way with the creation of the American Animal Hospital Association in 1933; Europe followed suit towards the end of the 1950’s with the creation of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) in the United Kingdom in 1957 and the Association Francaise des Veterinaires pour Animaux de Compagnie (AFVAC) in France in 1958 among others. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) was created in 1961.
This coincided with the increasing importance of dogs within the families of developed countries to become fully-fledged family members in their own right. Veterinary teaching adapted rapidly to provide high-level training that has never ceased to evolve. However, feline medicine was still embryonic, the cat often being considered as a simple commensal and not a true member of the family. It was only from the 1970’s that feline veterinary medicine truly developed scientifically, technically, and economically. The creation of the American Association of Feline Practitioners in 1974 marked an important step (although the Feline Advisory Bureau had been up and running since 1958 in the UK). Feline medicine continued to develop strongly, becoming more structured through the 1980’s and 1990’s and beyond.
This evolution is simply a response to demand. Indeed, since 1980, in the majority of developed markets the feline population has been growing faster than the canine population and in North America, as in Europe, there are now more cats than dogs.
Figures 1 to 5 illustrate the comparative evolution of canine and feline populations in five major countries, United Kingdom, France, Germany, USA, and Japan.
These results were obtained from surveys, but the statistics in these graphs are not as precise as those taken from human population censuses and should be considered as approximations. It is clear that the feline population is increasing at a higher rate than the canine population in all of the countries studied, although in the last 10 years, in the US and UK, the dog population has been on the increase again.
If one considers the most recent data, only Japan and the United Kingdom maintain similar cat and dog populations. In Germany and France, the feline population is increasing significantly whilst the dog population is stable or even decreasing.
However, there are still significant differences between one country and another. The data provided by the European federation of the pet food industry (FEDIAF) enable a more in-depth analysis of the demography of dogs and cats in 18 European countries (Figure 6).
This analysis combines two criteria: the percentage of cat ownership (number of cats/human population) and the ratio between the feline and canine populations. This reveals five main categories of countries:
• The two countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, along with Ireland have an ownership percentage that is lower than average and a much smaller feline population than canine.
• In three countries in central Europe, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, dogs are also predominant, but cat ownership is higher than the European average.
• Four countries, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and the United Kingdom, have similar canine and feline populations with cat ownership percentages that are close to the average.
• A group of 7 countries, Austria, France, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland, have a dominant feline population and a higher than average cat ownership percentage.
• Germany differs from the rest with a low cat ownership percentage but a very dominant feline population. Figure 7 presents the same data for 10 world area. Emerging countries tend to fall into the “low possession, dog dominant” group compared with Western Europe, North America and Russia where the possession rate is much higher and the cat population tends to prevail upon dog population.
Beyond historical and cultural differences (low pet ownership percentages in Spain, Germany or Latin America, domination of dogs in central Europe, in the Iberian Peninsula or South Africa), there is a clear emerging trend in countries with a relatively old and well-structured small animal veterinary service towards a significant and rapid development of the feline population.
B) Qualitative aspects
We have combined this quantitative analysis with a qualitative breakdown. Several differences between dog and cat owners become apparent in those countries for which detailed studies are available (FACCO, PFMA, APPA, JPFA).
• Cat owners have more cats than dog owners have dogs: 2.2 compared with 1.7 in the USA, 1.8 vs. 1.4 in Japan, and 1.6 vs. 1.3 in France. It is therefore more common for cat owners to have more than one pet than for dog owners (60% of cat owners in the USA have more than one cat compared with only 40% of dog owners, 32% in France compared with 19%).
• In term of acquisition, cats are purchased less often than dogs (for example 7% vs. 55% in France, and 15% vs. 47% in the United Kingdom) and they are less commonly purebred (for example 8% vs. 75% in the United Kingdom, and 5% vs. 49% in France).
• Overall, compared with the dog, the cat is slightly more urban, lives more often in flats, less often in families, and in slightly superior socio-professional categories.
• The owners of cats are more likely to buy pet food than are dog owners (89% compared with 76% in France). Relatively speaking, cat owners spend more money on food: for example in the USA, cat owners devote almost as much money to feeding their cats as dog owners do their dogs, even though their animals are far smaller ($220 per year for a cat compared with $248 for a dog).
• Cat owners consult the vet less often than do dog owners. For example in the USA, in a 2010 survey, the AAHA found that 70% of domestic carnivores seen in veterinary clinics were dogs, generating 79% of the income, whilst cats represented 52% of the population. In France, 84% of dogs visited the vet at least once over the previous 12 months compared with 57% of the cat population.
• The motives for consultation were also different: in the USA cat owners spend 5% more for disease or injuries in their animals but 13% less for preventive medicine. Finally, in nearly all of the countries in the world, the sterilisation rate is higher in cats than in dogs (88% versus 78% in the USA, 75% versus 33% in France).
On an international level, the evolution of the feline population is following a similar pattern, the only differences being in terms of timing. To understand this, we can distinguish between a developing market during which the cat is regarded as a “simple commensal“, and the mature market, which sees the cat become a “member of the family”.
• The “simple commensal” cat lives within a family, which feeds and houses them, but this is not accompanied by any significant emotional investment. Of course, the members of the family love their cat, but its death is an eventuality that is always present, and which is easily resolved by getting another one within a very short space of time. The family does not project the relationship with the cat over any length of time. Sensitivity to nutritional recommendations along with sterilisation, and medication rates are low in this population.
• On the contrary, the owners of “family member” cats project the relationship with their pet over the long term. This is spoken of as emotional investment. This leads to a profound change in the modes of consumption linked to the pet, in terms of feeding - with a high sensitivity to nutritional recommendations – and especially for health. The sterilisation and medication rates are very high in this population.
Figure 8 illustrates the change over time between these two stages and the relative position of the different groups of countries. It is therefore possible to predict the quantitative and qualitative development of the feline clientele for practising vets worldwide. In some cases this is already possible, for some an imminent perspective, and for others a far-flung dream. However, throughout the world, even where the feline population has already markedly changed, cats still represent an enormous potential for the veterinarian as what they currently offer falls short of the needs of demanding owners and of overcoming the consequences of the historical evolution that we have just described.
Come back soon for Part 2 of this article...