AVMA statistics: Horse ownership is down, and so are veterinarians’ visits

I love statistics. So when I came across these numbers today from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), my ears went up. And stayed up.

The new edition of the AVMA’s U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook has been published and it includes some impressive statistics that might, at first glance, give you some idea just how bad things are in the US horse industry.

I patched together a chart that compares the AVMA’s statistics for 2012 with what they had for 2007.

The AVMA published some summary statistics, almost all of which related to cats and dogs, so it took a little bit of digging to find the horses. But once found, the head scratching began.

Where did 2,439,000 horses–almost 500,000 horses per year for the past five years–go©

Let’s turn the calendar back to 2006, when the number of horse-owning households was UP by 5.9 percent over 2001. At that time, the AVMA also reported that the average number of horses per horse-owning household was 3.5, the highest it had been in a decade.

46.2% of horse owners didn’t have their horses
seen by a veterinarian at all during the year

A little gem of a statistic from 2007 was that more than one-third, or 33.9 percent, of all pet horses were 11 years old or older, and the Pacific Northwest had the highest population of horses over all other regions of the United States. The Northwest also led in general pet ownership.

I’m sorry to say that my own state–Massachusetts–was 50th out of 50 states for pet ownership. I’m not sure why; everyone I know has pets. Vermont was the #1 state for pet ownership. That’s nice, more room to run around!


Also in 2007, slightly more than one-third (38.4 percent) of horse owners considered their horses to be family members, the lowest of all pet categories surveyed.

A statistic that surprised me was that the average dog owner spends more per year per dog for vet visits than the average horse owner spends per horse. Maybe splitting barn calls among all the horses on a farm lowers the expenditure.

If you accept these figures as accurate, you need to explain to me where the 2.4 million horses went. If an estimated 100,000 horses per year are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, that still leaves 1.9 million horses that have disappeared. Where did they go? Were they euthanized? Or did they go into an equine underground where horses escape statisticians?

The AVMA is not in the horse census business–look to the USDA and American Horse Council for your choice of horse populations statistics. The AVMA is interested in rough numbers and how we’re taking care of them: are we calling the vet out just as often for fewer horses?

In its summary, the AVMA tells us that among horse-owning households, 53.8% had at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, a decrease?of 11.9% from 2006. Hang on and grab some mane now: that means that 46.2% of horse owners didn’t have their horses seen by a veterinarian at all during the year.

The information gets very specific, right down to household income and type of residence of people who own horses.

Most of us knew things were bad, but maybe not how bad. While I can’t quite buy some of the numbers, the obvious trends that all the numbers show don’t come as a surprise, but it’s still a shock to see them in print.

The download of the report is quite expensive, but would be worth the investment if you are working on a business plan or an academic project–or want to settle an argument at a dinner party, no matter what it costs. Perhaps a university or corporate library could access the report through a proprietary database for you.

I’d love to see it, how about you?




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