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What Statistics Can Tell About the Marketing Potential of a Veterinary Clinic

Published by Gilles Ventejol


9 min read

As a veterinary clinic holder, manager, or employee you often ask yourself if you are doing things right to meet your clients' expectations.

Of course, you can have an idea of the quality of the service you are offering them either by asking the question directly (satisfaction survey) or by assessing their fidelity: do they come back for vaccinations or health checks regularly, do they comply with your recommendations, etc...

You can also benchmark your practice against the standards of the veterinary profession. This is the first step, and it is full of useful information.

But the U.S. is a very large country. There are considerable differences between U.S. states and even within any state. And you would need more granular data.

Unfortunately, the information you need the most is unavailable at a county level. Actually, the most granular data only are an indirect explanation of the economic environment of a veterinary clinic. It looks like there is a direct and inverse correlation between the precision of the information and its usefulness for a veterinary clinic manager.

The good news is that there are also ways to get around the problem with some educated guesses we will expose here. We will walk you through the different kinds of statistics available to you, and present you with the most relevant data that you can use just now.

This is the purpose of this post.

Here is how it is organized:

Warning: there are several interactive maps at the end of the present article. Depending on your computer or device, they may take a few seconds to load. Please be patient, it is worth it!

Sources of Information

Some government organizations provide an abundance of information for free, but most is not available at the county or state level.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

This venerable institution founded in 1884 is well known for its CPI (Consumer Price Index) that provides the official inflation figures in the US. It also gives information on labor, employment, and consumption of goods and services. You will find a complete description here.

In this study, we will focus on the Consumer Expenditure Survey. It provides interesting insights on how U.S. households manage their budget, including expenses on pets. The Consumer Expenditure Survey integrates the data coming from 2 panels:

  • The Interview Survey questions households' representatives about the large expenses they made for the previous quarter. The respondents give their answers 4 times, every 3 months so that they can cover a whole year.
  • The Diary Survey focuses on small, daily expenses. The respondents write down all their expenses on a one-week period, twice a year.

The Consumer Expenditure Survey aggregates 7,000 interviews and 14,000 diaries every year. Although it represents a large amount of data, it is not enough to provide reliable figures at a state or county level. The BLS limits its analysis to socio-economic characteristics such as income, age, education, race...

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

The BEA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is known worldwide for producing the U.S. Gross Domestic Products (GPD). The BEA aggregates all kinds of economic information gathered throughout the U.S states and delivers data about production, consumption, investment, and income. A description of BEA's activities and mission can be found here.

The BEA provides county-level information on citizens' aggregated income. We will use these data in the last part of the article.

The U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It conducts censuses and surveys at regular time intervals. Learn more here

The U.S. Census Bureau produces the Annual Business Survey which data come from the mandatory responses of 850,000 businesses throughout the U.S. combined with the economic census and administrative records.

This very comprehensive set of data is precise enough to give information at the county level, for all types of industries identified with their NAICS (North American Industry Classification System). Learn more about the methodology. The veterinary services NAICS code is 541940.

Private Sources of Information

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

The AVMA defines itself as the "collective voice of the veterinary profession" in the U.S.. It provides training for veterinary practitioners, defends the cause of the veterinary profession, and helps educate the general public about animal health. See more here.

The AVMA produces the Pet Ownership and Demographics Survey (PDS) that gives a lot of information on pet ownership. It is an irreplaceable source of information. It takes place every five years, the last one being in 2016. It consists of interviewing a large sample of households. The implementation includes 3 different organizations: the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy to design the questionnaire, the Iowa State University Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology (ISU-CSSM) for the statistical analysis, and the Survey Sampling International (SSI) to administer the survey.

In 2016, the survey included 41,622 fully validated and tested responses.

American Pet Products Association (APPA)

The APPA represents over 1,300 pet product manufacturers, worldwide. It promotes pet care and advances in the pet industries. It also regularly conducts market studies. They are very comprehensive, but they are expensive for those who are not members of the association (several thousand dollars). The results are confidential too: they can't be disclosed to the general public without permission. From time to time, a little bit of information may be offered in press releases. See more here.

National Level Statistics

Pet Population

repartion and evolution of pet population in the US per species: dogs, cats, birds, horses and exotics

Source: AVMA Pet Owner Survey

It is surprising to see how quickly the pet population changes. It inevitably affects the activity of veterinary clinics.

The population of cats per household is decreasing steadily, while the drop in the number of pet horses is even more dramatic.

In the "Exotics" category, the pet rabbits and ferrets population was cut by one-half in a 10-year time period. At the same time, fishes and pet poultry have driven the growth of the group. But they do not often consult a veterinary surgeon.

Veterinary expenditures on pets

cost and number of visits to a veterinary clinic per species in the US: dogs, cats, birds, horses and exotics

Source: 2016 AVMA Pet Owner Survey

Dogs stand first when it comes to the activity they generate in veterinary clinics. Many factors drive this trend: dogs are more numerous, they go more often to a veterinary clinic, and a veterinary consultation for a dog usually costs more.

A simple calculation consists of multiplying these different factors for each species or category: population x number of visits x spendings on a visit.

It shows that dogs generate about three quarters (74.6%) of pet activities in veterinary clinics compared to 21.7%, 0.4%, 2.6%, and 0.7% for cats, birds, horses, and exotics, respectively.

Correlations of expenditures on pets with socio-demographic characteristics

Another approach is to look at pet expenditures as a part of the household budget.

They represent 1.1% of the household expenses. But, keep in mind that it is an average that consolidates households with and without pets. And, as there are about 60% of households that own pets, the actual figure for a pet owner is closer to 1.8%.

Also, the costs depend on the pet being owned. We've already seen that dogs and horses cost much more than other pets in terms of veterinary expenses. They also cost more when it comes to feeding them, or sheltering them. This should bring us to around 4% for dog-owning households.

Breakdown of US households' budget in the US - Relative part of expenditures on pets

Source: Mean values over 2017-2019 - Consumer Expenditures Survey - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is more interesting, and more useful, is to analyze the relationship between the levels of spending on pets and the socio-economic characteristics of pet owners. You can play around with the different factors and visualize the results provided by the Consumer Expenditure Survey as displayed in the interactive chart below:

Click on the different buttons.

Source: Mean values over 2017-2019 - Consumer Expenditures Survey for pets, toys and playground equipment - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

You'll find out that some characteristics don't move the needle. We don't see much difference for the 4 main U.S. regions, the number of people in the household, or the type of area the respondents are living in.

On the opposite, each factor that relates to the household's income in one way or another shows a close correlation with their expenditures on pets. This is of course the case for income, income deciles, or quintiles, but also for age (aging working people earn more), education, and generation.

Some characteristics fall in between. Their meaning is difficult to interpret although there are some impressive variations. This is the case for race, housing tenure, or number of earners in a household.

Where does that leave us?

The household's income is the primary criteria for explaining the level of spending for pets. But we already knew (or guessed) that. This is not a great discovery. But some may be surprised by the magnitude of the variation: from a factor of 1 to a factor of 5!

The point here is that you can use this information at a local level. This is where it will be really useful. This is what we will see in the last part of this article dedicated to county-level analysis.

Breakdown of pet owners' expenditures

The APPA offers an analysis of the expenses made by dog or cat owners, per animal. These expenses are allocated by category, which is of primary interest for pet-related industries.

Breakdown of expenses on pets in the US

Source: American Pet Products Association - 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey

Veterinary expenses are a major part of dog or cat costs. Dog owners spend $638 on average for their dog, whereas cat owners only spend $374, i.e. 41% less.

State-Level Statistics

The AVMA's Pet Ownership and Demographics Survey is powerful enough to produce data at the state level. It describes the dogs and cats population and ownership.

[Hover your mouse over the map below to get the figures, state by state]

Pet Population

Cat Population

Dog Population

Source: AVMA Pet Owner Survey

Note that these two maps have more or less the same profile i.e. the states that have the most cats also have the most dogs. This is because there is a hidden, common variable here: human population. This is where the human population is the more numerous that the pet population also is the more numerous.

At least, these maps let you visualize the actual figures (hover over the states with your mouse).

If you want to discriminate between dogs and cats, the following two maps are more interesting.

Pet Ownership

The percentage of pet-owning households is a variable that allows for a better distinction between states about the popularity of cats vs dogs. This a regional information that any veterinary practitioner should have in mind.

Cat Ownership

Dog Ownership

Source: AVMA Pet Owner Survey

County Statistics

This is where this article becomes really useful and new.

Because a veterinary clinic or hospital is a local service, it is the profile of the pet owners living around the clinic that really matters.

This is why statistical data at the county level would be useful to any veterinary clinic manager.

We provide you here with interactive county maps that give you keys about your immediate environment.

Median Income

As a reminder, the median income is the income value for which half of the population earns more (richest people) and the other half earns less (less wealthy people).

We've already seen that, at a national level, and thanks to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the expenses that are really made on pets are closely related to the household income. They range from about $200 to $1,300.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides us with data on personal income at a county level. We used them to draw the map below.

This map uses the same income ranges as those of the Consumer Expenditure Survey so that you can make direct comparisons.

You should definitely look at this map to check what is the situation in your area: it will help you define the level of service you can propose to your customers and assess how likely it is they will accept it.

[Hover your mouse over the map below to get the figures, county by county]

source: U.S. Census Bureau - income in the past 12 months (in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars) - 2019: ACS -Year Estimates Subject Tables

Be aware that personal income does not necessarily represent household income for the cases where there are several earners in the household.

Also take into consideration the fact that the pet expenditures data are collected regardless of the number of pets in the household and whether they are dogs, cats or exotics. We have seen in a previous section it can make a huge difference.

Veterinary Services

There is not much information that addresses the veterinary activities at the county level.

But the Annual Business Survey of The Census Bureau gives the total payroll of all veterinary clinics/hospitals in a county for about 1,800 counties throughout the U.S..

Let's think about it for a minute.

The payroll does not represent the total activity of veterinary clinics. The turnover would have been a better indicator. But still, it is an indication of the service actually rendered to customers (pet owners) by staff members of a clinic.

It can be used as a comparison tool from one county to another. It seems a reasonable assumption to say that the total payroll materializes the level of services provided within a county.

There is still another problem: counties are very different in size and population. Comparisons wouldn't mean anything unless we can take into consideration the potential of the population in terms of the number of inhabitants, pet population, and income level.

Pet population per county is not available, but the two other factors are. They can even be combined. This is what we have chosen to do, and what we have illustrated in our other interactive map.

It is not perfect, but it is the best we can do and we do believe it is a very good comparison point.

Here is our new and exclusive key indicator:

Animal Patient's exclusive indicator about local veterinary services

In practice, it tells what is the total contribution of all county's inhabitants (in cents per $100 income) to the veterinary care provided by qualified veterinary staff in the county.

For instance, we could consider that a county whose Relative Veterinary Service Cost indicator sits below 10cts/$100 is understaffed in terms of veterinary services. This should be a good development opportunity for an existing or a new clinic.

On the opposite, a county whose Relative Veterinary Service Cost sits in a higher range (> 15cts/$100) should be better at satisfying its residents' expectations. Competitive pressure would also be stronger.

[Hover your mouse over the map below to get the figures, county by county]

sources: BEA's Personal Income Regional Data 2018 and The Annual Business Survey of The Census Bureau 2018

Key takeaways

Pet population changes fast

Even though the overall number of pets has remained stable for decades, the repartition of the different species changed significantly over short periods of time.

The number of pet horses and, to a lesser extent, cats has decreased dramatically in the last 10 years.

The number of animals in the Exotics category has increased by one quarter over the last 5 years. But this growth is due to the augmentation of the pet poultry and fish population, which do not generate a lot of vet consultations. At the same time, the ferret and pet rabbit populations were cut by more than one-half.

Dogs are the core of the pet veterinary business

More than ever, dogs are the core of veterinary consultations. The dog population is growing at a slow but steady pace. Dogs go to the vet more often than the other species and produce more veterinary revenue per individual. Taking all these factors into consideration makes them account for 75% of the overall veterinary activity on pets.

Adapt your service to your customers' purchasing power

This is not a surprise. Statistics show a quasi-linear correlation between owners' income and their veterinary expenses.

Focus on your area

The United States is a very large country. It is also very diverse.

Statistics show there are considerable regional differences in terms of pet population size, ownership, or income. There are also differences that statistics don't take into account such as mentality or culture: it changes the way owners consider their pets and consequently behave with regards to veterinary care.

Gilles Ventejol picture

Gilles Ventejol

Gilles Ventejol is an Animal Health professionnal who had been working for over 20 years in the Animal Health industry. He organized many veterinary conferences and contributed to veterinary drugs development and commercialization. He holds a MSc in Biology and a MBA. His fields of expertise are parasites control, heart and kidney diseases, anti-infectives, vaccines, and reproduction.