Ten Best Cities in the US For a Healthy Pet


Published May 2003

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (May 20, 2003) – In your home or in your community, there are many factors that affect your pet’s health. A new study examines those factors and reveals which U.S. cities are top dogs – and which are going to the dogs – when it comes to pet health.

The Purina Pet Institute today announced the rankings of the Pet Healthiest Cities in the U.S., with Denver, Colo., topping the list. The study identifies those cities that exemplify superior care, services and legislation for pets’ health and well-being. The Institute analyzed 30 different criteria ranging from veterinarian-to-pet ratios to incidence of obesity to rabies legislation.

The top 10 best cities for healthy pets:

  1. Denver, Colorado
  2. Oakland, California
  3. Portland, Oregon
  4. Anaheim, California
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
  8. Columbus, Ohio
  9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  10. Salt Lake City, Utah

“This is the only comprehensive evaluation of factors that impact pets’ health and affect their quality of life,” said Dan Christian, DVM, executive director of the Purina Pet Institute. “This study honors cities, such as Denver, that understand the important role they play in the health of their community’s pets. And hopefully, they inspire other communities as well.”

Conducted for the first time in 2001, this is the second Pet Healthiest Cities report and it includes two new criteria: preventative care and obesity/body condition.

“Just as in humans, preventative care and obesity/body condition are health issues that have important implications for our pets and we felt it was important to include these areas when evaluating the Pet Healthiest Cities,” explained Christian.

The new data revealed that pet obesity/body condition and preventative care are indeed major issues. Body condition refers to the evaluation of an animal’s physique and serves as one indication of his overall health and well-being. According to the veterinarians surveyed, more than half of the nation’s cats and dogs are overfed, which can lead to health problems that can have an impact on pet longevity. An unprecedented 14-year study by Purina proved that feeding dogs properly over their lifetimes to maintain ideal body condition can significantly extend their healthy years. The median life span of the lean-fed dogs in this study was extended by 15 percent, or nearly two years, compared to the control group dogs.

Additionally, nearly one-third of the veterinarians who responded to the survey listed the lack of pet owner commitment to preventative care as their top concern for pets. A lack of owner education programs (25 percent) is the second leading problem.

These new criteria, along with changes within the individual markets, accounted for significant movement within the rankings from the previous report.

For example, Miami, which ranked 50 in the previous Pet Healthiest Cities report, rose to 21st position this year. According to the data, Miami pets scored well in the new obesity/body condition criteria and Miami improved in the air quality and state cruelty legislation categories. Oakland’s ranking also improved by 10 spots, bringing it to second place. The key reason was its high percentage of neutered/spayed canine companions (83 percent versus a national average of 75 percent). Norfolk, Va., plunged 29 places to 49th due to poor reported numbers of neutered/spayed dogs (54 percent) and cats (67 percent versus a national average of 79 percent).

Mile High Tops Cities

However, Denver, which placed first in the past report, remains unseated as top dog. Based on study results, Denver consistently scored high in many of the criteria categories. Denver received the highest score for the availability of emergency and critical care with 62 veterinarians accredited by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society – more veterinarians per capita than any other city in the report. Denver also scored well in the following categories: animal shelter; air quality; watershed; preventative measures; obesity/body condition; and low reports of Lyme disease.

Study Highlights

Although Denver is tops in pet health among U.S. cities overall, many other cities had significant results from the study:

In the dental care category, New York City scored highest – 56 percent of its pets currently under veterinary care receive regular dental cleaning (national average: 36.2 percent).
New York City and Oakland scored highest for percentage of dogs neutered (83 percent) and New York City tied with San Jose for highest percentage of cats neutered (86 percent).
In the body condition category, New Orleans scored highest for percentage of dogs at ideal body weight (50 percent) and Nashville took top score for percentage of cats at ideal body weight (50 percent).

Cats and dogs in San Francisco can claim clean lungs – the city boasts the lowest cigarette usage, plus the city boasts zero annual ozone alert days.

Providence takes the top position in shelters with 37 per capita, edging out Hartford, Conn., which has 34.7 shelters per capita.

Columbus, Ohio pets have their paws full of veterinarian choices; Columbus leads the country in the veterinarian-to-pet ratio with one veterinarian for every 745 pets.

Pet Health Starts at Home

While it is important to understand the environmental elements that affect a pet’s health – such as the availability of qualified care, the prevalence of fleas or the requirements of licensing – there are many things individual pet owners can do to help improve their pet’s health regardless of where they live.

“The things pet owners control – obesity/body condition, preventative care, spaying and neutering – can literally add, or detract, healthy years from a pet’s life,” said Christian. “No matter where you live, by taking an active role in maintaining your pet’s well-being, you can help your cat or dog lead a healthier life.”

Pet enthusiasts can log on to www.purina.com to find out more about the Pet Healthiest Cities program and what they can do for their own pet’s health. Visitors to the site also can take a quiz to see if they’re in a “healthy” relationship with their pet.

The Purina Pet Institute’s mission is to advance the quality of life for dogs, cats and their owners through scientific discovery and the enhancement of the pet/owner relationship.

About the Study

To determine the Pet Healthiest Cities, the Purina Pet Institute developed an extensive list of 30 objective criteria in the areas of canine/feline health, legislation and services, including two new criteria categories: preventative care and obesity/body condition. To collect primary data on these two new categories, the Institute distributed a national survey to more than 5,000 veterinarians and received a statistically relevant amount of responses. Criteria was then weighted according to its importance in furthering pet health. The report was conducted in conjunction with demographic consultant Bert Sperling, who collects and analyzes the data for Money magazine’s annual “Best Places to Live” feature. The Institute worked with Sperling to collect, analyze and rank the data.


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