Best Cities for Dog Owners

 
 
 
 

by Amy Orr

Man’s best friend -- the humble dog -- has become a staple of the American household. Over 44% of homes own at least one dog, according to American Pet Products Association, and many homes (42%) have more than one pet. This adds up to over 160 million household pets as of 2015, according to the same source.

Research shows that the majority of pet owners consider their furry friend to be a member of the family -- 63%, in fact, according to the 2012 AVMA Sourcebook. This is reflected in the massive boom in spending seen recently on veterinary care, food, pet services and pet supplies. A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that annual household spending on pets surpasses spending on alcohol, candy and telephone bills, among other things.

Are pets the new American obsession? The numbers certainly say so; $20 billion was spent on pet care in the U.S. in 2014 alone, and another $9.5 billion on dog food, according to Neilsen. Dogs are clearly a defining factor in their owner’s lives, decisions and spending. But how well Fido fits into his owner’s life can depend heavily on where they live. Costs and amenities vary widely from one city to another. Here we have analyzed the best -- and worst -- cities in America for people and their pooches.

The Best Cities for Dog Owners

To determine the best cities for dog ownership, we analyzed factors relating to cost, pet care, availability of pet suppliers and pet services, ability to take dogs into non pet-related businesses, as well as the parks and walking potential in the area. We then combined all of these factors -- 16 in all -- for cities with a population of more than 250,000 and ranked them from the best to the worst.

  • Colorado Springs, CO

    • Amenities & Care: 3
    • Walking: 38
    • Going out: 9
    • Cost: 46
  • Lexington, KY

    • Amenities & Care: 2
    • Walking: 73
    • Going out: 11
    • Cost: 21
  • Tucson, AZ

    • Amenities & Care: 13
    • Walking: 50
    • Going out: 5
    • Cost: 44
  • Albuquerque, NM

    • Amenities & Care: 37
    • Walking: 22
    • Going out: 6
    • Cost: 48
  • Springfield, MO

    • Amenities & Care: 15
    • Walking: 74
    • Going out: 17
    • Cost: 10

The Rest of the Best

The five above were tops, but 150 other cities were under consideration. Where did yours rank?

OverallCityAmenities & CareGoing outWalkingCost
1Colorado Springs, CO393846
2Lexington, KY2117321
3Tucson, AZ1355044
4Albuquerque, NM3762248
5Springfield, MO15177410
6Tulsa, OK1157483
7Wichita, KS2443554
8Knoxville, TN22187413
9Omaha, NE3573262
10Austin, TX1974270
11Oklahoma City, OK18515916
12Madison, WI3427436
12Savannah, GA7452074
14Myrtle Beach, SC4647423
15Naples, FL637474
16Jacksonville, FL28416227
17New Orleans, LA66141466
18Durham, NC16246360
19Huntsville, AL21667412
20Asheville, NC20107474
20Tallahassee, FL517498
22Charleston, SC43197443
23Reno, NV25284285
24Spokane, WA32336056
24Indianapolis, IN6054661
24Nashville, TN6437728
27Cape Coral, FL2787474
28Ocala, FL4327474
29Tampa, FL48813324
30Mobile, AL62367416
31Raleigh, NC26485169
32Des Moines, IA17109618
32Fayetteville, AR29857011
34Fort Collins, CO1227499
34Boise City, ID36296566
36Chattanooga, TN92127419
37Roanoke, VA57277440
38Greenville, SC10123746
39Fort Wayne, IN74466422
40Kalamazoo, MI58347442
41Portland, OR30388134
42San Antonio, TX69155671
43Birmingham, AL6872677
44Montgomery, AL70256951
45Portland, ME10648136
45Orlando, FL52594562
47Cincinnati, OH451152438
48Corpus Christi, TX134163538
49Davenport, IA44797430
50Baton Rouge, LA75605440
51Denver, CO336217118
52San Diego, CA71844729
52Greensboro, NC422118150
52Columbus, OH55355388
55Memphis, TN11455585
56Pensacola, FL72137474
57Kansas City, MO40884462
58Eugene, OR122074129
58Little Rock, AR79567426
60Salem, OR31447488
61Ann Arbor, MI95274103
62Santa Rosa, CA83974120
63Phoenix, AZ56874171
64Louisville/Jefferson County, KY53657464
65Charlotte, NC93686832
66Las Vegas, NV90493787
67South Bend, IN106707414
68El Paso, TX152423635
69Gulfport, MS67777448
69Shreveport, LA76827434
71Seattle, WA49697142
72Lafayette, LA83477465
73Fayetteville, NC123267051
74Richmond, VA103407454
74Rockford, IL478328113
76Jackson, MS115317459
76Columbia, SC81977427
78Virginia Beach, VA118617432
78Augusta, GA94634088
80Peoria, IL51767486
80Houston, TX122803451
82St. Louis, MO1131043147
82Dallas, TX1081551220
84Salt Lake City, UT112537460
85Atlanta, GA116983155
86Grand Rapids, MI841067437
87Anchorage, AK953030148
87Dayton, OH1001057424
89Port St. Lucie, FL411177474
90Pittsburgh, PA1321201644
91North Port, FL231467474
91York, PA509074103
93Hickory, NC1201017431
94Santa Maria, CA1412274120
95Kingsport, TN99927466
96Sacramento, CA917427141
97Lakeland, FL117717474
98Milwaukee, WI1241021596
99Manchester, NH388974137
100Brownsville, TX154937418
101Deltona, FL391537474
102Lancaster, PA637874129
103Salisbury, MD131582154
103San Francisco, CA591137499
105Palm Bay, FL971372988
105Toledo, OH651387474
107Lansing, MI8614210115
107Miami, FL7310374103
109Harrisburg, PA1057574102
110Ogden, UT1271007457
111Winston, NC771237488
112Minneapolis, MN1021256133
113McAllen, TX1551267415
114Baltimore, MD1191352197
114Cleveland, OH10711411140
116Canton, OH821307488
117Buffalo, NY142947471
117Beaumont, TX11114313114
119Bakersfield, CA1445057131
120Salinas, CA7811274120
120Oxnard, CA5413674120
122Bridgeport, CT6114874103
123Rochester, NY1309939120
123Stockton, CA8712746128
125Akron, OH801407495
126Modesto, CA1401287448
126Huntington, WV8910774120
128Flint, MI9611974103
128Provo, UT1511107457
130Reading, PA8513274103
131Killeen, TX1259574103
132Philadelphia, PA1291184147
133San Jose, CA1388623153
134Albany, NY8810874135
135Chicago, IL1411215139
136Fresno, CA1496749143
137Vallejo, CA1269174120
138Detroit, MI13915425101
139Allentown, PA11013374103
140Scranton, PA10414474103
141Syracuse, NY1431313149
141Boston, MA10911174132
143Youngstown, OH1281417488
144Worcester, MA9814774115
145Urban Honolulu, HI1539674119
146New York, NY1471451155
147Los Angeles, CA14613419152
148Visalia, CA14811674120
149Trenton, NJ14514974103
150Springfield, MA13715174115
151Washington, DC13312474151
152New Haven, CT13512974145
153Hartford, CT12115074144
154Riverside, CA15015252138
155Providence, RI13613974146

The Top (and Bottom) Five Cities for...

The rankings shown above take into account all factors relating to dog ownership equally. But not everything is important to everyone. For some, money is no issue; for others, ability to walk their dog around their neighbourhood trumps all other concerns. And some dog ownership factors can be mutually contradictory. For example, those cities with the most pet amenities may also be the most expensive, because there is a high demand for pet-related businesses. Looking at how cities fare in each individual data point can help a dog owner decipher which of the factors their city excels in.

Number of Veterinary Facilities

For some unlucky dog owners, nothing will be as important as the availability and affordability of pet healthcare. As part of this study, we analyzed the number of veterinary facilities per city, per 100,000 residents. Below we have broken out the winners and losers in this data point. It is noticeable that cities in both Texas and California fare particularly poorly, together accounting for six of the worst ten cities and 12 of the worst 20.

RankCityVets
1Fort Collins, CO33.87
2Lexington, KY27.17
3Ocala, FL25.80
4Santa Rosa, CA22.27
5Madison, WI21.99
RankCityVets
155McAllen, TX2.32
154Brownsville, TX5.07
153Honolulu, HI5.54
152El Paso, TX6.11
151Provo, UT6.93

Number of Dog Parks

Walking is perhaps the most significant activity a dog owner will do with their pet outside of the home. Many cities have specially designated dog parks, dog trails and other diversions. Below we look at the best cities by their “Walking” score -- a numerical grade comprising percentage of the city that is parkland as well as proportion of population that live within walking distance of a park. All of the top five cities are known for having large urban areas, but also for having large inner-city parkland.

RankCityDog Parks
1San Francisco, CA51
2New York, NY46
3Portland, OR36
4Chicago, IL23
5Houston, TX21
RankCityDog Parks
155Brownsville, TX0
154Trenton, NJ0
153Springfield, MA0
152Killeen, TX0
151Allentown, PA0

Cost of Living

Inevitably, cost will be the deciding factor on whether to get a pet or not, as well as how that pet is cared for. Unfortunately, pet-care costs vary widely across the country and can make the decisions relating to a pet’s health and well-being very difficult. Below, we look specifically at just the cities that rated as least and most expensive for dog owners. We have used a cost of living index as a proxy for pet-care costs and medicine costs, as studies show these items correlate very closely. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive cities are some of the largest.

RankCityCOL
1McAllen, TX85.0
2Brownsville, TX85.8
3Indianapolis, IN87.2
4Springfield, MO88.0
5Memphis, TN88.2
RankCityCOL
155New York, NY181.7
154San Francisco, CA164.0
153San Jose, CA156.1
152Los Angeles, CA140.1
151Washington, DC136.4

Experts' Take

To vary our coverage of the best cities for dog owners, we put the data aside and sought out experts for answers to questions of concern.

Erin Ballinger is the editor of BringFido.com.

1. What factors go into making a dog-friendly city?

--Walkability (trails, sidewalks, et cetera) --Number of parks and dog parks where you can bring your dog. --Businesses where you can bring your dog (restaurants, hotels, breweries, bars, shops). --Organized dog-friendly events like Yappy Hours. --Accessibility to activities that you can participate in with your dog like kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, or frisbee golf. --Businesses along main streets put out dog water bowls. Dog-friendly businesses give out treats. --The city has several dog waste stations along the main pedestrian streets and in parks. --Dogs are allowed in parks and at some events like Farmer's Markets.

2. What do families need to take into account about their city before making the decision to own a dog?

--Need to factor in if they want to take their dog to dog parks, restaurants, etc. and if so recognize whether or not their city has those things. --Plan out where they will take their dog on walks (does their street have sidewalks, or will they have to take them to a park or trail nearby?).

3. What are the pros and cons of a lot of pet-friendly or pet-oriented businesses in an area?

Pros: --If your business is located near a dog park or dog groomer, you can expect to get more foot traffic customers with their dogs. --Dog owners seek out dog-friendly businesses and restaurants to hang out with their pet. --Dog owners with children especially like dog-friendly restaurants because they can relax better in the casual environment.

Cons: --Some people will not like having dogs around. --Some potential customers will have allergies and not visit your business because dogs are around. --There may be additional cleaning costs. --There may be safety issues or added liability when allowing dogs into your business.

4. Do you have any tips for families owning or looking to own a dog that can make it more affordable?

--Adopt a pet from the local animal shelter or dog rescue. --Find veterinarians that offer first-year puppy packages with reduced rates on shots and spaying/neutering. --Learn to bathe and groom your own dog. --Don't go overboard on dog toys. Buy a few high-quality, durable toys that will last. --Buy premium dog food on sale or in bulk at local pet food stores. Store the food in air-tight, plastic canisters so it will not go stale. It's much better than buying cheap dog food.

5. What can residents do to make their city more dog-friendly, whether dog owners themselves or not?

--Patronize and be loyal to businesses that are dog-friendly. --If you own a business, allow leashed dogs and offer dog treats or water bowls outside your front door.

Nick Braun is the founder and CEO of Pet Insurance Quotes.

1. What factors go into making a dog-friendly city?

The key is having a pet-friendly infrastructure. So parks, lakes, convenient pet stores and plenty of veterinary options. A really simple but good indicator is how many pet hospitals a city has. Some small cities have four or five great animal hospitals, while some big cities only have one or two.

2. What do families need to take into account about their city before making the decision to own a dog?

Dog owners should be aware of their surroundings and local laws before selecting a dog. For example, if you live in Manhattan, probably not a great idea to own a Great Dane or Newfoundland. And if you live in a city with strict dog laws you need to do your research before adopting a Pit Bull Terrier or Boxer because they are outlawed in some areas.

3. What are the pros and cons of a lot of pet-friendly or pet-oriented businesses in an area?

I don't see any cons of a lot of pet-friendly businesses in an area. The pros are great selection and competition increases the quality of goods and services.

4. Do you have any tips for families owning or looking to own a dog that can make it more affordable?

Pet insurance is something more dog owners should consider. Veterinary care is a critical part of dog ownership and it's the only way I'm aware of to guarantee a dog gets the care they need. I wish more pet owners had it because ultimately the dogs win in the end.

5. What can residents do to make their city more dog-friendly, whether dog owners themselves or not?

One thing residents can do is start local, neighborhood-level dog events. For example, in our suburb of Upper Arlington, Ohio, all of the local parks turn into off-leash dog parks starting at 6 p.m.. It's a great way for all the local dogs to play together and a great way for pet owners to meet each other.

Wendy Plata is a fulfillment manager for CertaPet and Companion Animals.

1. What factors go into making a dog-friendly city?

The most important factor for my pooch, Smores, is a place to play with other dogs. Dedicated dog parks are an awesome way for dogs to learn how to socialize with other animals while getting exercise at the same time. When space is not available for whatever reason, basic courtesies are greatly appreciated -- a place to get water or a place to dispose of waste.

2. What do families need to take into account about their city before making the decision to own a dog?

How much exercise does your prospective companion need and how are you going to ensure that is accomplished? This is less of an issue for small dogs, but I have friends who have adopted medium-sized dogs and simply did not consider how they were going to exercise them in the middle of a city. A dog with too much energy quickly turns into a dog that eats your furniture.

3. What are the pros and cons of a lot of pet-friendly or pet-oriented businesses in an area?

The pet-friendly businesses around our area tend to get more traffic from my family. If we’re planning to take Smores for a walk around the neighborhood, a place that welcomes our hairiest family member is always going to be higher on the list. Additionally, they usually make sure that getting rid of doggie waste products is relatively easy. From a pet-owner’s perspective, there really isn’t much in the way of negatives.

4. Do you have any tips for families owning or looking to own a dog that can make it more affordable?

Take the time to produce an expected budget for your animal. There are always surprises associated with owning a pet. If you’ve done little to no preparation, those surprises are multiplied. Along with that, insurance is often a good idea, regardless of the breed, but especially if it is a breed prone to issues.

5. What can residents do to make their city more dog-friendly, whether dog owners themselves or not?

Please ensure there are waste receptacles for doggie dumps. I have no problem picking up after my dog, but it certainly makes life easier to know I have a place to dispose of it. I want to focus on playing and spending time with my dog; I’d rather not spend that bonding time carrying a bag of not-treats.

Min S. Lee is a senior vice president of business development at CertaPet and Companion Animals.

1. What factors go into making a dog-friendly city?

It seems that the biggest factor that coincides with how dog-friendly a city is would be tied to how physically active the people are. For example, cities that are consistently recognized as having a very healthy population will have people that are often seen outdoors with their dogs. As somebody that has lived in several different cities throughout the country, it seems as though the more active the people are, the more accommodating those cities’ laws are for having dogs in its parks, hiking trails and restaurants.

2. What do families need to take into account about their city before making the decision to own a dog?

I think the smartest approach is to understand the climate and geography. Here in Southern California, there is plenty of sunshine year-round for patio lunches with your dogs, lots of hiking trails, dog parks and beaches where your dog can splash around and make new friendS.

3. What are the pros and cons of a lot of pet-friendly or pet-oriented businesses in an area?

Having pet-friendly businesses make it so much easier to spend an entire day with the whole family… after all, dogs are family! A typical dog-owner’s Sunday in SoCal begins with a patio brunch at a dog-friendly restaurant, walking off your meal at the local dog park, meeting new people, then heading over to one of many breweries near the beach where you can have a couple beers while your dog enjoys his bowl of water and treats (always provided by the businesses).

4. Do you have any tips for families owning or looking to own a dog that can make it more affordable?

Everybody should look into adopting or rescuing a dog. Besides saving the dog’s life, there are plenty of benefits. First off, it is MUCH cheaper adopting than buying a new puppy from a breeder. Secondly, they are often already fully vaccinated saving more money. Finally, the rescued dog is oftentimes old enough to have already received some training. This can save tons of money that would’ve otherwise been spent on puppy pads and unapproved chew toys… as in your most expensive shoes!

5. What can residents do to make their city more dog-friendly, whether dog owners themselves or not?

The greatest impact residents can make is petitioning their city councils to help create dog parks and speak to restaurant owners that have outdoor dining about allowing dogs on their premises. Participating in dog festivals also lets the city know that dogs are an important part of the quality-of-life of their voters.

Methodology

To determine the best cities for dog owners, we looked at 16 factors from six sources. These factors were grouped into four categories: amenities and care; going out; walking; and cost. These categories were equally weighted in the final rankings.

The amenities and care category takes into account the number of pet supply, pet service and pet care amenities available in each city, normalized by population. This covers pet stores, groomers, kennels, dog walkers and dog sitters, dog trainers, vets and animal shelters and rescue organizations. The more access a dog owner has to these care and supply resources, the better able they are to take care of their pet and make smart choices for their animals.

As more and more people come to see their pets as part of the family, the demand for pet-friendly businesses and amenities grows. The second category -- going out -- includes factors relating to the ease with which a dog owner can take their canine friend with them when out and about in a city. These four factors cover the number of pet-friendly restaurants and hotels, the number of dog-friendly beaches and the number of dog parks.

The walking category is a simple one, taking into account the walkability of the city as well as the amount of parkland and the accessibility of that parkland. These are simple but vital components of dog ownership.

The last factor -- cost -- is again a simple but important one. Here we have included the average cost of pet insurance as well as a cost of living indicator. The cost of living indicator is used as a facsimile to food, vet and medicine costs. Unfortunately, data for these specific items is not readily available; given the pet food and pet-medicine markets are such enormously profitable ones, proprietary research into the geographic trends in these areas is performed but not accessible without significant financial outlay.

Similarly, health factors such as incidence of common dog ailments (rabies, fleas, et cetera) would have been a good complement to other factors in this study, but as with costs data, access to these data points was not possible. Lastly, we would have liked to include data on breed-specific legislation, licensing and the kill/no-kill policies of city shelters, as indicators of a city’s policies and how safe a dog would be if temporarily lost in an area. But reliable data sources for this information broken down geographically was not available.

Below, we break down the statistics we have used and their point of origin. Those items marked with an asterisk used state data rather than city data.

Amenities & Care

  1. No. Pet Stores per 100,000 residents / U.S. Census Bureau, 2012
  2. No. Groomers per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  3. No. Kennels per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  4. No. Dog Sitters & Dog Walkers per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  5. No. Dog Trainers per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  6. No. Vets per 100,000 residents / U.S. Census Bureau, 2012
  7. No. Animal Rescue Organizations per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016

Going out

  1. No. Pet Friendly Restaurants per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  2. No. Pet Friendly Accommodation per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  3. No. Dog Friendly Beaches per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016
  4. No. Dog Parks per 100,000 residents / BringFido, 2016

Walking

  1. WalkScore / WalkScore, 2016
  2. Parkland as a % of City Area / ParkScore, 2016
  3. % of Residents Within 1/2 Mike of a Park / ParkScore, 2016

Cost

  1. Insurance Costs* / Pet Insurance Quotes, 2016
  2. Cost of Living Index (Vet Costs) / ACCRA Cost of Living Index, 2010

Comments and Questions