Study finds we care more about dogs than cats, but it’s not that simple

A new study has found that in Europe pet owners are more likely to care about their dogs than cats.

While this finding may be controversial to some cat owners, the researchers suggested it’s not quite so black and white.

“While people care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, the degree of difference varied dramatically between countries,” said Dr Peter Sandøe of the University of Copenhagen.

“It doesn’t therefore seem to be a universal phenomenon that people care much less about their cats than their dogs. We suggest instead that the difference is likely to depend on cultural factors, including whether the animals spend a lot of time with their owners in the home.”

The research has been published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

 The team undertook a survey of 2,117 pet owners who lived in the UK, Denmark and Austria. 884 were dog owners, 872 were cat owners, and 401 had both.

The researchers asked the participants about how much they were willing to pay for treatment, whether they had pet insurance, their attachment to their pet, and expectation of treatment options at the vet.

The greatest difference between people’s attitudes towards dogs and cats was in Denmark, followed by Austria, and the lowest difference was seen in the UK.

“The British are often portrayed as a nation of cat lovers, which is certainly confirmed by our study. The Danes have a long way to go but they may eventually get there,” said Sandøe.

“There seems to be no natural limit to how much people will end up caring about their cats compared to their dogs.”

The researchers aren’t really sure why this is. They suggest that it might have something to do with our culture and history, as dogs worked closer with humans in the agricultural past.

However, the team also suggests the amount of contact and dependence an owner has with a pet might bridge the cat/dog divide. 

“There is some reason to think that when owners care less about cats it is not a fact of nature, one that just flows from the animals’ perceived behaviour,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Instead it may vary depending on (or so we speculate) culturally shaped factors, including the degree of contact and dependence.”

Studies in the US have not borne out these same results.

“Our study only looks at three countries located in central and western Europe,” said one of the researchers, Professor Clare Palmer of Texas A&M University. “It raises intriguing questions regarding what comparative studies of other countries might find. Perhaps there are countries where the level of care for and attachment to cats is, in fact, higher than dogs?”

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