Research

11 best cities for pets

What are the best cities for animal lovers? We reviewed the data to find out where your furry friends will fare best.

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One of the few positive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a surge in pet adoptions. Not only did more Americans add a pet to their families, they also set a spending record of $99 billion on their animals in 2020. And while this trend occurred nationwide, we set out to discover which cities in the U.S. are best suited for owning a pet.

To find the best cities for pets, we looked at the 50 most populous places in the U.S. and analyzed four specific data points:

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents (by MSA) 
  • Walkability (by city)
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents (by city)
  • Best states for animal protection laws (by state)

We used the results to rank each city for their pet-friendliness and the competition turned out to be pretty stiff. Surprisingly, you’ll see that we had multiple ties and actually expanded our ranking to 11 cities to accommodate all of them. And while dog parks only apply to a certain demographic of pet owners, our other criteria apply to any kind of creature in your care.

Keep scrolling to see if your city made the list as one of the top places to have a pet. 

1st Place: Portland, OR

image with text showing that Portland, Oregon is the best city in the U.S. to own a pet

Portland proves to be a well-rounded place to raise a pet. Oregon's animal protection laws come in second only to Minnesota, and Portland specifically has the highest ratio of dog parks on our list. And no matter what type of pet you have, you’ll also find a large number of veterinarians to get the care your animal needs. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 38.32
  • Walk Score: 67
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents:5.4
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #2

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Council Crest Park has two acres of off-leash park area where your dog can roam free. 

2nd Place: Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is the second-friendliest place for pets in the U.S. The city’s walkability certainly makes it easy to help your pet get some exercise and there are also plenty of dog parks to choose from. While D.C. wasn’t included in the state animal protection ranking, residents can rely on a relatively heavy population of veterinarians. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 27.51
  • Walk Score: 76
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 1.9
  • Best states for animal protection laws: N/A

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Bring your dog to explore the monuments and memorials within the National Mall, all of which allow leashed pets outside. 

3rd place (two-way tie)
Denver, CO

Denver has nearly 38 vets for every 100,000 residents. Not only that, the city ranks highly for dog parks and pet protection laws. On the downside, it’s not quite as walkable as some of the other cities on our list, so be prepared to hop in the car when it’s time to exercise your pet. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 38.19
  • Walk Score: 61
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 1.8
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #10

Pet-friendly spot to check out: There are plenty of pet-friendly nature hikes to explore around Denver, including scenic city views atop North Table Mountain.

Seattle, WA 

We’re returning to the Pacific Northwest where Seattle pet lovers have plenty of dog parks to choose from. Not only is the ratio of dog parks high, but Seattle pet owners also enjoy a variety of landscapes at these parks, from woodland hikes to beachside play areas. Seattle also has a high walkability score so your furry friends get some well-deserved exercise. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 26.91
  • Walk Score: 74
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 2
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #12

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Magnuson Dog Park offers over eight acres of off-leash territory for your pooch, including a lake beach. 

5th Place (two-way tie)
San Diego, CA 

With lovely weather all year round, San Diego gives residents plenty of time and space to play with their pets outside. The city ranks third for the most dog parks compared to population. Plus, there are plenty of off-leash beaches for dogs who love to play in the ocean. California also ranks high for having the best animal protection laws. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 34.99
  • Walk Score: 51
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 1.1
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #3

Pet-friendly spot to check out: There are lots of pet-friendly restaurants to explore throughout San Diego, like the aptly named Lazy Dog in Old Town.

San Francisco, CA 

San Francisco ties as San Diego’s northern counterpart in California, partially because of the state’s pro-pet laws. But San Francisco also stands out as the second best city on our list for both walkability and dog parks. If you prefer outdoor time with your pet, San Francisco gives you ample opportunity. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 18.4
  • Walk Score: 87
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 4
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #3

Pet-friendly spot to check out: If your dog is good on a leash (or even your cat or bird!), go for a pet-friendly cruise together and tour the San Francisco Bay. 

7th Place: Boston, MA

Boston is another city that has excellent walkability, plus you get to see tons of beautiful architecture and cobblestoned streets as you stroll with your pet. It does rank in the lower half for veterinarians, so consider booking your pet’s routine appointments well in advance. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 24
  • Walk Score: 82
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 1.8
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #14

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Stroll through the pet-friendly SoWa Open Market from spring through fall, plus enjoy plenty of surrounding shops and restaurants that welcome leashed animals.

8th Place: Tampa, FL

Tampa has plenty of dog parks to choose from, coming in second only to Portland. However, the city’s walkability ranks in the bottom half, so you’ll need to scout out your specific area to find the best place to exercise your animals. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 26.73
  • Walk Score: 49
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 4
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #16

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Check out the Tampa Bay Riverwalk for a scenic jaunt as well as dog-friendly restaurants — many of which offer water bowls and treats to your four-legged friends.

9th Place (three-way tie)
Chicago, IL 

Illinois is ranked as the top state for animal protection laws and has maintained that distinction for the last 10 years. The Windy City of Chicago is also well-suited for walking, although those winter months do tend to bring low temperatures and plenty of snow. 

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 18.85
  • Walk Score: 77
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 0.9
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #1

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Explore the 606 with your dog, which is a 2.7-mile stretch of a former elevated train line transformed into an eye-catching urban trail.

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis ranks consistently across all categories, making it a solid place for pet owners to access everything they need. And in warmer months, you can bring your dog to brunch (or any other meal) with 36 restaurants and counting offering pet-friendly patios.

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 25.35
  • Walk Score: 70
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 1.7
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #22

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Peruse the outdoor Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which spans more than 11 acres and offers plenty of cute photo opps for your pet (including a giant spoon with a cherry on top).

Sacramento, CA

Sacramento rounds out our list with two standout features for pet lovers: the first is California’s pet-friendly protection laws. The other is the city’s fourth-place finish for its high ratio of dog parks. On the downside, walkability may be limited throughout Sacramento, and vets are in shorter supply compared to other cities.

  • Number of veterinarians per 100,000 residents: 22.6
  • Walk Score: 45
  • Number of dog parks per 100,000 residents: 2.4
  • Best states for animal protection laws: #3

Pet-friendly spot to check out: Visit University Dog Park, one of Sacramento’s best-rated off-leash parks. Plus, there are separate sections for small and large dogs in case you’re worried about major size differences. 

Image listing 11 best cities for pets

 


Methodology

The Zebra pulled four data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. related to pet owners. 

MSA data was used where applicable, and we sometimes substituted city or state data as necessary. 

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