Top Reasons People Don’t Own A Pet, Revealed In Study

Late in 2011, the American Humane Association launched a one-of-kind study to understand why three to four million adoptable pets are euthanized every year in shelters across the country. “Keeping Pets In Homes” is a three part study to curb pet homelessness. The goal is to learn why some people adopt a cat or dog, some remain pet-less and others surrender them to shelters. The first phase of the research was just released and the results are very interesting.

While there are 117.5 million households in the U.S., only 46.3 million have a dog in their family and 38.9 million own a cat. That leaves 27.5 percent of the households in America without a pet. The first phase of Keeping Pets In Homes examined the reasons why so many people do not share their lives with furry friends.

Funded by a generous grant from PetSmart Charities, phase one, “Reasons For Not Owning A Dog Or Cat,” interviewed 1,500 adults who previously owned a pet and non-pet owners to determine the reasons behind their decision. Understanding the respondents’ hesitation to bring a cat or dog into their families is the first step toward developing effective strategies to get more homeless pets adopted.

Phase one also examined if people in the study were open to the possibility of becoming a pet guardian in the future. Here are the top reasons cited for not owning a cat or dog:

  • The cost associated with having a pet is too high.
  • Not enough time to care for an animal.
  • The grief over the loss of a previous pet was too much to handle.

Surprisingly, people named the death of a previous pet as the top reason why they did not currently have an animal in their household. Twenty percent of dog owners and 17 percent of cat owners said the stress of watching a beloved pet grow old and die was so traumatic they had chosen not to go through experience again.

When respondents were asked if they were open to the possibility of pet ownership in the future they said:

  • 45 percent of previous dog owners would consider getting another, while 34 percent of previous cat owners were receptive to another cat.
  • 25 percent of those who had never owned an animal said they were “probably” or “definitely” open to bringing a dog into their family compared to 10 percent for cats.
  • Previous owners said they would adopt from a shelter or rescue organization for obtaining a new dog or cat.
  • Those who have never owned an animal, 51 percent said they would rescue or adopt a dog and 42 percent indicated they would use a shelter to adopt a cat.

Some of the data from the study was discouraging. More than a third of non-pet owners said they dislike cats and only 22 percent of previous dog owners and 18 percent of former cat owners said they obtained their past pets from a shelter or rescue group. And despite the documented health and emotional benefits of pet ownership, an overwhelming 90 percent of seniors said they were not open to owning a dog or cat in the future.

“There are still significant hurdles to overcome in helping to keep more of these healthy, adoptable animals out of the nation’s shelters,” said Dr. Patricia Olson, chief veterinary advisor for American Humane Association’s Animal Welfare Research Institute. “Using the data gathered and the work to be done in future phases of this study, we hope over time to decrease pet homelessness and relinquishment.”

“By understanding the reasons why so many Americans do not own a pet, and learning what we can do to increase lifelong retention of those that do,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of the American Humane Association, “we can take the necessary steps to change minds, change policies and change activities to help get more of these beautiful animals out of shelters and into the arms of loving families.”

Phase two of the study is underway. The focus is to examine people who have adopted a cat or dog in the last six months from public and private shelters in three major cities and determine how they and their new pets are adapting.


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Photo Credit: TambakotheJaguarnameofphotographer


Wendy l
Wendy l23 days ago

Pets are for lonely people. They're also a hassle, bark, make people do crazy things like go in debt to pay for 10k chemo for a dog, jump into the sea to save their dogs and then drowning, treat their dogs as if they were a human member of the family, neglecting their kids, forcing their kids to pick up poop,....

Dogs are for lonely people who can't get along with others

Laura T.
Laura T4 years ago

life w/out a pet is unimaginable. there are so many different types of pets out there there is one to fit every lifestyle

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.4 years ago

Emergency vet bills in Alexandria VA are murder. I think I would drive to Leesburg to save the money. I haven't had a cat in four years now.

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

I love animals, and have had pets, but it is not the right time in my life for a pet.
Several reasons I choose not to have a pet for my family:
1 - The cost. I don't have the extra money for vet bills. That is an expense I do not want incur.
2 - The inconvenience. I do not want to have to worry about what time I need to be home to let a pet outside to use the bathroom. I do not always have the time to walk them or play with them.
3 - I do not feel like having to house break a pet, or clean up the messes they leave behind if I am unable to let them outside for a potty break.
4 - My husband is disabled and we have 2 daughters under the age of 12. My time is booked solid, and they are more interested in electronics and gadgets.
5 - I do not always like to stay home, and I like being able to get out and about when I can.

We had pets when our daughters were younger, but we also were not able to come and go freely. My daughters understand this fact, and are able to play with the pets my sister-in-law has, and they help with them. So I am not fully denying them animals, I am just not up for something extra to take care of. Trust me, I would love another Chihuahua, as the one I owned was loving and my companion during my school years. The time will come, just not right now.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

so many people who say they "hate cats" don't. my ex husband said he didn't like cats but he let me get one. he fell in love. not sure why cats are looked down on... they are beautiful. all animals are unique and have something awesome to offer!

SHIREEN MCKEE4 years ago


Geraint Morgans
Geraint Morgans4 years ago

Losing a pet is heartbreaking and you sometimes feel disloyal if you have another one. However if you adopt an abandoned pet you may well be saving a life. That is the way to look at it in my opinion.
We have 5 cats (about the maximum we can look after well) plus a feral cat that comes for meals frequently, but won't let anyone touch him.

ann paveletz
.4 years ago

A person must come to terms they adopt for life not just for a passing fad.Ann

pre,tpse w.
pre,tpse w5 years ago

One of the biggest reasons that people don't have pets is that their landlords won't let them. This is a huge problem in areas like Maui where about 70% of housing is rental, and 90% or more of those do not accept pets. Also, when people lose their homes and move into rentals, they often must give up their pets. Some people go homeless in order to keep their non-human family members, but that, too, is getting harder to do, with homeless people finding it more and more difficult to find anywhere to stay, or even sleep.

As for people not replacing pets who are lost or die because they don't want to go through the pain of the loss again, to me loss and death are part of life; if I didn't have pets in order avoid the pain of their deaths, then I'd be suffering the loss of their love and companionship my entire life! A lifetime of pain vs the temporary pain of loss (especially temporary if you get another or more pets; otherwise it's easy to stay stuck on the pain instead of living life joyfully)... hmm ... it's an easy choice for me.