Report Highlights. Research from the data science team at revealed the following statistics about the current state of animal shelters in the United States in 2020.

  • Americans adopt roughly 3.2 million pets from shelters each year.
  • Shelters still contribute less than one-third of all pet adoptions.
  • Currently, about 67% of American households include at least one pet.
  • Despite increasing adoption rates, a combined 1.5 million dogs and cats from shelters are euthanized each year, and an estimated 70 million strays remain on the streets.
  • On average, adoption is significantly less expensive than buying an animal.

Adoption from Shelters

Pets adopted from shelters are often referred to as “rescues.” Shelters take in homeless animals and take care of their medical needs, including vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures. Shelter space is limited, however, and many animals must be euthanized due to overcrowding. Pet adoption saves lives, costs less, and ensures the animal you take home is healthy.

  • Nationwide, shelters take in more than 6 million animals each year.
  • 49% of all shelter animals are adopted.
  • Cats and dogs are adopted in equal numbers.
  • About 30% of all pets are adopted from shelters.
  • At least 50% of unadopted animals are euthanized.
  • Cats have the highest rate of euthanasia at 70%.
  • On average, the initial cost of pet adoption ranges from $370–$1020; very small animals like fish and hermit crabs can be as low as $9.
  • Clinics that specialize in spay/neuter procedures are consistently less expensive than regular veterinarians.
  • Some shelters offer discount pet insurance or veterinary services.
  • The average cost of adopting a dog is less than one-third what it would cost to purchase that same animal from a breeder.

Purebreds in Shelters

There’s no need to go to a breeder to get a purebred animal. Shelters often have a significant percentage of purebreds. There are even rescues that specialize in purebred animals. The Specialty Purebread Cat Rescue system, for example, has shelters throughout the Midwest.

  • 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred.
  • 4 of the 10 most popular dog breeds are also among the most common shelter dogs.
  • Some purebreds are high-risk for euthanasia.
    • Pit bulls are the most-surrendered, least-adopted breed.
    • 93% of pit bulls in shelters are ultimately euthanized.
    • Some “manmade” cat breeds cannot survive without human care.
    • Thousands of racing greyhounds every year risk homelessness and death when they are “retired.”
Ten Most Common Shelter Breeds
    1. American Pit Bull
    2. Labrador Retriever
    3. German Shepherd
    4. Dachshund
    5. Jack Russell
    6. Chihuahua
    7. Boxer
    8. Beagle
    9. American Bulldog
    10. American Staffordshire Terrier
    1. Labrador Retriever
    2. German Shepherd
    3. Golden Retriever
    4. French Bulldog
    5. American Bulldog
    6. Poodle
    7. Beagle
    8. Rottweiler
    9. German Shorthaired Pointer
    10. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Health Benefits of Pet Adoption

For most people, adopting an animal is about more than getting a pet. Studies show pets become important members of the household, providing comfort and companionship. Many children with autism and ADHD reportedly thrive working with therapy animals. Pets ease loneliness, increase sociability, and diminish stress.

  • Clinical tests show that pets:
    • Decrease blood pressure.
    • Decrease cholesterol levels.
    • Decrease triglyceride levels.
  • People who live alone decrease their risk of heart disease by 36% when they adopt a pet.
  • Animals boost human activity through exercise and play.
  • Dog owners are much more likely to get 90 minutes of daily exercise than those without dogs.
  • 87% of cat owners say their pets are good for their well-being.
  • 76% report their cat helps them cope with everyday life.
  • Petting a cat or dog for 10 minutes decreases physical and mental stress.
  • 34% of fibromyalgia patients who spent 10 minutes petting a therapy animal reported a reduction in physical pain.
  • Daily visits from a therapy dog reduced post-op patients’ dependency on pain medication by 28%.
  • 94% of parents with autistic children report their child shares a close bond with the family dog.
  • Babies living with pets develop more robust immune systems than those who don’t.

Communal Adoption

Sometimes homeless animals are adopted by a small community, such as neighbors in an apartment complex. These adoptions typically involve cats and are unofficial, beginning with one or more community members feeding a friendly stray. Neighbors may also take the cat to a local vet or let it indoors in bad weather.

  • 35 million community cats are estimated to live in the U.S.
  • Only 2% of community cats have been spayed or neutered.
  • 80% of new kittens are born to community cats.
  • 81% of people would rather keep a friendly stray outdoors than have it captured and euthanized.
  • 11% of community members provide the bulk of the cats’ food.

Community Benefits of Animal Adoption

By some estimates, over a hundred million animals live on the street. Most of these animals have not been sterilized, producing still more animals to roam city streets and neighborhoods. These animals can quickly overrun these areas, causing damage to both property and the local environment. Many strays are lost pets lacking ID.

  • Shelters report that fewer than 10% of intake animals are spayed or neutered.
  • Realistically, one female cat produces 3,200 decendents over 12 years.
  • Theoretically, one female cat could produce up to 420,000 descendents over 7 years.
  • Likewise, one unspayed dog could theoretically produce up to 67,000 descendents over 6 years.
  • Unneutered male cats are particularly aggressive and territorial, using excessive urine to mark a perimeter.
  • Ecologists consider loose feral cats extremely detrimental to their local environment.

American Pet Ownership

The United States has more pets than any other country in the world, with 86 million households including at least one pet. Pet ownership reduces health risks while improving quality of life. Some owners become so attached to their pets that they come to think of them as part of the family, including them in family celebrations, holidays, and major life events like weddings.

  • Collectively, Americans keep over 135 million pets.
    • 78 million pet dogs.
    • 85.8 million pet cats
  • 56.6 million U.S. homes include a dog while 45 million have a cat.
  • 710,000 lost pets in shelters are returned to their owners each year.
  • 75% of pets are spayed or neutered.
  • Stray cats are up to 6x more likely than stray dogs to be adopted off the street.
  • 10% of pet owners are allergic to their animals.
  • 21% of holiday pet sales are purchased by friends of pet owners.
  • 80% of Americans claim to consider their pets members of the family.

Statistics About Cat Adoption and Ownership

Though friendly, cats are usually aloof. They are a rare example of self-domestication, developing a symbiotic relationship with humans over thousands of years with little interventional breeding. Though dogs are more popular among households, cat owners are more likely to keep multiple pets.

  • 1.6 million cats are adopted in a year.
  • There are 85.8 million pet cats in America.
  • Cat owners keep an average of two (2) cats per household.
  • 52% of cat owners keep multiple cats.
  • A single cat costs their owner less than a thousand dollars annually.
  • The average cat’s annual vet bill is $219.
  • An estimated 80% of pet cats are female.
  • 86.1 million cat owners (76%) consider their cat(s) a family member.
  • 17% of cat owners buy their pets Christmas gifts.

*Some survey responses did not indicate a number of cats owned.

Statistics About Dog Adoption and Ownership

Dogs are among the smartest and friendliest domestic animals. They tend to form strong bonds with people and consider their human families their “pack.” Physicians and psychologists consider them some of the best therapy animals due to their intuitive relationship with humans.

  • 900 billion dogs are kept as pets throughout the world.
  • Americans keep 78 million pet dogs.
  • Dog owners have an average of 1.6 dogs per household.
  • 142.6 million people own dogs.
  • 90% of pet dogs know the “sit” command.
  • 14% of dog owners lose their dog within the first five years of ownership.
    • 94% of lost dogs are found alive.
    • Half of found dogs are located after a search of their neighborhood.
    • 20% of lost dogs find their own way back home.
  • Dogs lower the risk of death in heart attack and stroke survivors by 27-33%.
  • 121.2 million – or about 85% – consider their dog(s) a family member.
  • 81% of dog owners buy their pet a Christmas present.
  • 72% feed their dogs turkey at Thanksgiving.
  • 8 million dogs enter new households every year.
  • 1-in-4 dog owners adopted their dog from a shelter or rescue.
  • 57 million learned about their dog via word of mouth.

Adopt to Stop Puppy Mills

Puppy mills have been legally defined as “dog breeding operation[s] in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” The animals are typically ill with viral infections, sores, injuries, and mental/behavioral disorders. Of the estimated 10,000 puppy mills operating in the U.S., only 3,000 are legal.

  • 90% of pet store puppies are born in mills.
  • 70% of mills are illegal and completely unregulated.
  • Over 4 million puppies are born in mills each year.
  • Just over 2 million of them make it to pet stores.
  • Puppy mills often take advantage of the anonymity of e-Commerce to sell their pups online.
  • People who end up with puppy mill dogs are usually looking for a specific breed.

Statistics About Other Animals

Dogs and cats may be the most popular domestic pet animals, but not some people like their pets to be more unique. Shelters take all kinds of animals: birds, snakes, rodents, ferrets, rabbits, and guinea pigs are often among a shelter’s population. These animals all need forever homes just as much as the dogs and cats do.

  • Rabbits are the third-most abandoned animals in shelters.
  • Rabbits are high-maintenance; they require a veterinarian with specialized knowledge and training.
  • 2.8% of American households own pet birds.
  • 3.6 million households include a pet bird.
  • 9 million Americans report living with a pet bird.
  • 42% of pet birds came from a pet superstore or pet shop.
  • Pet shops are also a top source for “pocket pets” like gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs.
  • Pigs are smarter than dogs.
  • China has more domestic pigs than any other country in the world.
  • Pigs tend to get along better with cats than with dogs.
  • Ball pythons are popular pets and can live up to 40 years.
  • Large snakes can go weeks or even months between meals.
  • 4/5 of all snake species lay eggs.
  • Pet turtles can live for decades.
  • Turtles recognize their owners.
  • All turtles carry salmonella.

Warning About Exotic Pets

Exotic pets end up in shelters, too. Be sure to do your research before you adopt. Exotic animals all have unique needs; failure to understand and meet these needs can have dire consequences. Knowing city, county, state, and federal laws about your exotic pet may save you a load of cash and a lot of heartbreak later on.

  • The most popular exotic animals are harmless.
  • Exotic pets usually need a veterinarian who specializes in their species.
  • Exotic pets tend to be active and agile.
    • Primates need to climb and swing.
    • Miniature deer need room to run and jump.
    • Fennec foxes love to burrow and play.
  • While harmless to humans, an exotic animal might be dangerous for another house pet.
    • Bushbabies may eat small birds.
    • Pigs don’t like dogs.
    • Large cats like to toy with small animals in ways that often cause injury.


  1. Pet Statistics
  2. Pet Cost Calculator
  3. Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics
  4. Pet Insurance in North America
  5. Number of Households in the U.S. 1960-2019
  6. American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook
  7. World Atlas: How Many Dogs Are There in the World?
  8. Interesting Dog Training Statistics
  9. Pets by the Numbers
  10. Fact Sheet for Pet Owners
  11. Why Euthanasia Rates at Animal Shelters Have Plummeted
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About Pets and People
  13. Owning a Dog Could Provide Long-Term Health Benefits, Study Says
  14. 11 Ways Dogs Can Save Your Life
  15. Pet Adoption Statistics: The Numbers Behind the Need
  16. The Most Popular Dog Breeds…
  17. U.S. Library of Congress: How Did Cats Become Domesticated?
  18. Report: Puppy Mills Then and Now
  19. Dogs Firmly on the “Nice List”…
  20. Lost Pet Statistics
  21. Puppy Mills: Tough Life for Dogs
  22. Five Common Methods of Pet ID
  23. Pets and Mental Health
  24. Pets are Good for Your Health…
  25. 13 Things You May Not Know About Rabbits
  26. Fact about Pigs
  27. 21 Interesting Facts about Reptiles
  28. 9 Things to Know Before Adopting a Turtle
  29. Encyclopedia Brittannica: Bush Baby
  30. Pet Dog Ownership Decisions for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  31. Exploring the Differences Between Pet and Non-pet Owners: Implications for Human-Animal Interaction Research and Policy
  32. Commercial Dog Racing in the United States
  33. Map of Private Exotic Pet Ownership Laws
  34. Purebred Pet Rescue Demystified
  35. How Much Cheaper Is Adopting A Dog vs. Buying One?
  36. How Spay and Neuter Helps Save Lives
  37. Pet Overpopulaion: The Simple Solution. Education, Legislation, Sterilization
  38. The Moral Cost of Cats