Too Many Pets: a Supply-Side Problem

Posted by Dan Karney on Mar 9, 2012

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Bob Barker, former host of the long-running TV game show “The Price is Right”, used to end each daily broadcast with the plea (source): “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”  Drew Carey, the replacement after Bob Barker’s retirement, continues to end each show with this same admonition.  Indeed, this is a quite curious thing to say at the end of a game show where someone just won thousands of dollars in cash and prizes.  So why did Bob Barker say this? What did Bob Barker mean?

In short, the United States has a pet overpopulation problem resulting in the euthanizing of 3-4 million cats and dogs per year (source).  One animal every 8 seconds!  These animals are euthanized because they do not have homes and stray animals are deemed a public nuisance, so animal control laws often require stray animals to be euthanized if an owner is not quickly found.

In economics jargon, these cats and dogs are euthanized because the supply of companion animal outstrips the demand for companion animals.  There is no doubt that a significant demand for companion animals exists in the United States.  The National Pet Owners Survey estimates the cat and dog population in U.S. households at 78.2 million and 86.4 million, respectively.  Obviously, Americans want companion animals and many spend significant amounts of money to acquire one.

Indeed, pet stores and breeders sell companion animals in a market system, so why the over-supply of pets?

An important reason for the over-supply of dogs and cats come from the fact that many pet owners do not spay or neuter their animals.  Inevitably, when they procreate, litters of kittens and puppies need to find new homes.  That is, when a pet is not spayed or neutered, the pet supply (likely!) increases in a non-market transaction.   When the demand does not keep up with supply and these animals cannot find homes, then they end-up in shelters and are often euthanized.

As an animal lover, Bob Barker wants to minimize the number of animal euthanasia cases.  The platform of a daily TV game show reaching millions of people allowed Bob Barker to raise awareness about the need for pet owner to spay and neuter their animals.  In honor of Bob Barker’s efforts over the many years, I remind all my readers that February 28th was National Spay & Neuter Day. It is not too late to have your pet spayed or neutered!