New Zealanders own more pets per household than anywhere else in the world, apart from the United States, according to a new report – and we are outnumbered by our pets.

The New Zealand Companion Animal Council’s report Companion Animals in New Zealand 2016 updates research originally released in 2011 – and shows about 64 per cent of New Zealand households are home to at least one pet with an estimated 4.6 million pets outnumbering their owners.

This is a slight reduction on the 2011 figure of 68 per cent but this country still has the world’s second highest rate of households with companion animals, after the US (slightly ahead with 65 per cent).

The report says the reason for this decline is a slight drop in the proportion of people sharing their homes with the most popular companion animals in New Zealand – cats, dogs and fish. In contrast there has been a slight increase in rates for birds, while the proportion of households with rabbits, horses or ponies and other animals has remained consistent.

“The average number of animals per home mirrors these changes,” the NZCAC report says. “There are slightly more birds, horses and ponies, rabbits and other types of pets per household. In contrast there is a very small drop in the average number of cats, dogs and fish per household.”

Cats are still the most popular companion animal in New Zealand, with 44 per cent of households sharing their homes with at least one cat, followed by dogs at 28 per cent.

Only 10 per cent of households have fish; however, with an average of around nine fish per household, the total number of fish is 1.5 million, outnumbering cats at 1.1 million. There are almost 700,000 dogs and over half a million birds.

But apart from the statistical exploration of our pet ownership, the report also delves into the emotional side saying: “Companion animals play a vital role in the lives of New Zealanders. While companionship is the main reason for getting these animals, both cats and dogs become members of the family and trusted companions in 95 per cent of households.”

While you might expect cats (83 per cent) and dogs (77 per cent) to fall into this category, Kiwis also love their fish, birds and horses – and 60 per cent of rabbit owners consider their bunnies members of their family.

People with companion animals also place great importance on their health and wellbeing, with total expenditure on products and services for companion animals estimated at $1.8 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2011, with the biggest slice of that expenditure being food – estimated at $787.3m, up from $766.2m in 2011.

Dave Allan, general manager of the company that manufactures Jimbo’s, says his firm knows, from working with customers, how much people love their pets.

“They are not only trusted companions, but become a significant part of people’s lives. Taking care of an animal is a special relationship and gives so much to owner and pet.”

He says the changing Auckland and New Zealand property scene may also have an effect on pet ownership – noting that well over half (58 per cent) of all people who do not have a companion animal would like to get one, equating to around 347,000 households.

Pet ownership is highest in households with children aged 9 to 17, with 78 per cent of such homes having a pet, according to the report. But in terms of young people setting up their own homes, those aged 18-24 were the second least likely group to have a companion animal (62 per cent), just behind those aged 50-plus (60 per cent).

A big factor for younger people is not being allowed to have a pet in rented accommodation, increasingly the only option for young people caught in the upward spiral of Auckland property prices, says Allan.

The report cites Gen Y respondents (aged 21-35) as most affected, with half of all participants saying the landlord or property they live in did not allow animals. That same issue of pets in rental accommodation was also seen as a major barrier for those in urban/city areas (50 per cent), people living in Wellington (49 per cent), and Maori (44 per cent).

Other findings include:

• Pet ownership rates are highest amongst people living in Christchurch (72 per cent) and in rural areas (78 per cent), women (67 per cent), people aged 34-49 (72 per cent) and Maori households (68 per cent).
• Those least likely to have pets live in Wellington (59 per cent) and suburban areas (62 per cent), are over 50 years old (60 per cent), and identify as Asian (48 per cent).
• Just 22 per cent of Asian households have cats, compared to 48 per cent of New Zealand European households and 50 per cent of Maori households. Asian owners were the most likely of all ethnic groups to have fish (17 per cent), and also favoured birds as pets (9 per cent).
• From 2011 to 2015, de-sexing rates increased 8 per cent for cats and 19 per cent for dogs. The proportion of cats microchipped has more than doubled from 12 per cent to 31 per cent and increased by nearly 50 per cent for dogs from 48 per cent to 71 per cent

NZ HERALD 5:00 AM Wednesday Aug 17, 2016