For pets – and especially cats – looking for a home, a rural state like South Dakota is a good place to be.

The state has the third highest percentage of overall pet-owning households in the nation, and fourth highest for cats, according to the 2011 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook.

The study, which is conducted every five years by the American Veterinary Medical Association, shows 65.6 percent of all households in South Dakota owned pets in 2011. This puts the state slightly behind New Mexico, at 67.6 percent, and Vermont at 70.8 percent.

And while the state did not make the top ten states for dog ownership, 39.1 percent of households reported owning a cat, placing it fourth behind Oregon, Maine and Vermont.

But the numbers aren’t all good. The study also shows that, nationwide, the number of dog owners who have not taken their pet into a veterinarian in the last year rose 8 percent between 2006 and 2011. The number of cat owners who have not gone to the veterinarian in the past year rose 24 percent over the same time period.

Also, the number of

overweight dogs in the country rose 37 percent in the last five years, while the

number of overweight cats went up 90 percent.

Lindy Geraets, vice president of Paws Animal Rescue in Pierre, said South Dakota probably has a high percentage of pet ownership because it’s rural, much like the other states with similarly high numbers.

It’s easier to have pets in a rural setting, where most own their home, rather than an urban one where apartments and high-density housing often have restrictions on pets, she said.

As for the higher percentage of cats rather than dogs, she speculated dogs require more attention, especially in households with more than one pet.

“It’s just easier to have multiple cats,” Geraets said.

Dr. Craig Howard, a veterinarian with the Animal Clinic of Pierre, also said the state’s high pet ownership is likely due to its farming roots.

“Animals in general have always been part of our Midwest heritage,” he said.

As for the veterinary care numbers, Howard said he has noticed a downturn in visits for routine or preventive care. While economic factors definitely play a role in that, there is also competition from the Internet and stores for things the veterinarian used to provide.

Flea and tick treatments, supplements and, to a limited extent, prescription medication can all be obtained without seeing a vet, he said.

Howard also described pet obesity as “extremely common.” Overfeeding on higher quality foods and a lack of exercise means obesity has “always been a problem and continues to be a problem,” he said.

Tom McPheron, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, said he also sees a correlation between high pet numbers and rural communities. He pointed out that the city of Washington, D.C., had the lowest percentage of household in overall pets, dog ownership and cat ownership.

McPheron said the organization’s biggest concern is the decline in routine veterinarian visits, which are a necessity because pets will hide afflictions.

The organization is also concerned about the slight overall decrease in pet ownership, dropping from 57.4 percent of households nationwide in 2006, to 56 percent in 2011, he said.

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