Doing the sums on pet over-population

The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple. S. Gudder Reema

63% of 7.5 million households in Australia have a cat or dog.*

That is 4,725,000 households have one or more pets, one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world.

Let’s assume that each of those 4,725, 000 households have only one pet.

Let’s also assume that each one of those pets has a life expectancy of 15 years.

And we’ll make another assumption that there is an even spread of those pet age-groups across the population.

So that one- fifteenth of the population has a pet aged 15.

That means one- fifteenth of these households might, sadly, be looking for a new pet very soon, so there will be 315,000 households looking for a new pet.

Now let’s assume that of that 315,000 households, 20% of them want a pedigreed pet, or one from another source.

That leaves 252,000 homes looking for a new pet.

Now, if the figures are correct, 250,000 companion animals are killed in pounds every year. If we assume that 10% of them are un-rehomeable because of health or temperament, that leaves 225,000 healthy, adoptable pets looking for homes.

So we have 225,000 pets looking for homes, and 252,000 homes looking for pets!

In fact, we can increase that figure of homes looking for pets because around 53% of households have multiple pets. So if we assume that of that 252,000 homes looking for new pets but not committed to the source have two pets, then there are actually homes available for another 133,560 pets.

That means that there are 385,860 potential new homes for pets available.

The estimated 250,000 pets in pounds is a reasonably firm figure, we have statistics from pounds and shelters, so we can let that number stand.

What is not so firm are the numbers of households looking for pets, because we know that many households have multiple pets.

Let’s do the figures another way.

There are about 3.7 million dogs in Australia. If we take our one-fifteenth figure again and assume the age spread again, about 246,667 of those dogs are around 15, and their owners might be looking to find a new dog in a little while. That means around 246,667 homes looking for new dogs.

If we do the same calculations with cats, there are 2.2 million owned cats in Australia. If one-fifteenth of them die in the next year and their families want a new pet, that is 146 667 potential cat homes.

So all up from this set of figures we can estimate that there are 393,334 potential new homes available for dogs and cats.

Now my assumptions are fairly conservative. Many pets do not live to be 15, many homes have more than two pets,  Australia’s population is increasing and pet ownership is still popular. In fact, of the people surveyed for these figures, 53% of people who didn’t currently own a pet would like to do so in the future.

From these numbers we can assume that there are potentially around 400,000 households who are or will be looking for a new pet in the near future. In fact if we take the most conservative of these numbers we will actually have 160,860 more households looking for pets, than there are shelter pets available.

In our pounds and shelters we have 225,000 pets looking for new homes. The problem is not that there aren’t homes available, but that the available homes don’t necessarily see shelter pets as a good option for finding a new family companion.

In fact these figures shouldn’t surprise us at all, since we know that puppy farmers are breeding for money. If there wasn’t a market for the many hundreds of puppies they breed every year, puppy farms would go out of business.

There is no pet over-population in Australia; we are not short of homes. What we need is to build a better connection between those homes looking for new pets, and the available pets in shelters and pounds looking for new homes.

What we have is a simple marketing problem, not a complex over-population problem.

* Australian Companion Animal Council, 2006, Australians and their pets: the facts

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