ISU Veterinary Researchers Find Pet Owners Willing to Adopt Pets with Manageable Medical and Behavioral Issues


Dr. Molly Murphy, College of Veterinary Medicine, 515-294-6371,
Tracy Ann Raef, College of Veterinary Medicine, 515-294-4602, 

January 28, 2013

Paralleling trends seen in human life expectancy, pets, too, are living longer. Advancements in veterinary medical care and nutrition have helped move that trend upward. As pets live longer, many owners find themselves managing disease conditions of older pets. Younger pets, too, can experience onset of treatable illnesses. And, many pet owners are willing to accept the responsibility for their pets’ care when the unexpected happens.

But would a potential owner adopt a pet, knowing it has existing medical and behavioral issues? Veterinary researchers at Iowa State University surveyed central Iowa pet owners to find the answer. What they learned will help animal shelters across the United States better predict the type of care possible adopters could provide.

For the study, companion animal veterinarians completed a written survey ranking medical or behavioral conditions by what they thought most clients would consider healthy, treatable, manageable or unhealthy (untreatable or unmanageable). In a parallel survey, dog- and cat-owning households participated in a telephone survey to determine the role of the pet in the household, past veterinary expenditures, willingness to administer various treatment modalities, and the extent of financial commitment to addressing health or behavioral issues.

The study, funded by Maddie’s Fund ®, and published in the January 1, 2013 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association discussed several findings from the survey of dog and cat owners:

  • 78.7 percent of households considered their cat and/or dog a member of the family
  • Over 70 percent of respondents reported a willingness to administer treatments associated with chronic conditions (such as twice daily pills or eye drops, or feeding a special diet for life
  • 63.4 percent were willing to spend 10 minutes three times daily for six weeks training a pet
  • More than half would take their pet to the veterinarian twice weekly for a three-month period
  • Past experiences with veterinary care in which an animal did not recover fully did not diminish the willingness of respondents to use veterinary services again in the future.

Molly Murphy, DVM, PhD, ISU veterinarian and lead author of the study said, “Many shelters determine an animal’s adoptability on the basis of what health or behavioral conditions the shelter is able to treat or manage with existing resources. But pet owners may have the resources and willingness to treat an animal with the same issues. Thus, those conditions may not necessarily be impediments for adoption.”

ISU veterinarians who conducted the study were: Drs. Molly Murphy, Danelle Bickett-Weddle, Kevan Flaming, Claudia Baldwin, Christy Petersen. The full study is available at: “Assessment of Pet Owners Approaches to Medical and Behavioral Diseases: insights into pet adoptability and willingness to manage pet diseases.” J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc.