Owners care more about their dogs than their cats (new survey)

REPORTING ON A STUDY TOGETHER WITH MY OPINION: For a long time, I have known that, in general, owners care more about their dogs than their cats. This is apparent because people spend more money on veterinary treatment for dogs and cats. And the difference is quite marked. This study confirms what I’d thought and extends the discussion.

Cat and dog and owner
She’ll probably spend more on her dog than her cat. Image: Pixabay.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The study

The study’s lead researcher is Dr. Peter Sandoe. The study is entitled: Do people really care less about their cats than about their dogs? A comparative study in three European countries? They compared the relationship between cat and dog owners in three countries: Denmark, Austria and Britain.

The purpose was to see whether there was a universal preference for dogs over cats in terms of care or whether there were cultural differences between countries. The latter proves true.

Although I would add that there is a universal difference between dogs and cats in terms of the care that they receive because dogs are emotionally closer to their humans than cats in general because of the central point which needs to be made every time namely that dogs are pack animals and they look up to their owner as the alpha leader. This automatically creates a close emotional connection because the dog seeks guidance from the leader. This point is not made by the scientists in the current study.

The study measured the connection between owners and cats and dogs using four different methods:

  • Lexington attachment to pet scale (LAPS). This is a widely used test developed by Johnson, Garrity and Stallones in 1992. It assesses people’s relationship with their pets by asking questions such as to what extent they agree or disagree with statements such as: “Quite often I confide in my pet.”
  • Possession of pet health insurance.
  • A willingness to pay for life-saving treatment.
  • And also the expectation of veterinary diagnostic and treatment options.
Who loves their pets the most? Cat owners or dog owners?

The results

“Dog owners had higher LAPS scores in all countries”. However, the difference was the greatest in Denmark compared to Austria and Britain. In Britain the difference was less than in the other two countries.

More dogs than cats were insured in all three countries but once again the difference was less “skewed in favour of dogs in the United Kingdom compared to Denmark”.

In all three countries more dog owners and cat owners are willing to spend over a certain amount on veterinary care such as expensive life-saving treatment but the differences are more pronounced in Denmark compared to Britain.

And in Denmark and Austria, “dog owners expected more veterinary treatment options to be available”. In Britain there was no difference.

They concluded that:

“People care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, but with a clear cross-country variation and a very modest difference in the United Kingdom”.

They further concluded that this is not a “universal phenomenon”. What they mean is that it does depend upon different cultural attitudes in different countries.

Health insurance

Seventy-two percent of dogs had veterinary insurance in Denmark compared with 24% of cats. In the UK the figure was 58% of dogs and 37% the cats.

Times Newspaper

The Times reported on this today which brought the study to my attention. They add that the silver lining in the study is that people appear to be closer to cats than they were in the past and they mention that Dr. Peter Sandoe “wanted to find out whether cats could eventually end up having the same high status as dogs do today”.

The Times journalist, Rhys Blakely, summarises the study by saying that:

“People in all three countries had higher emotional attachment scores for their dogs, insured them more often, expected more treatment options to be available and would pay more for those treatments.”

Indoor cats

It may be the case that cats will have the same high status as dogs one day thanks to the fact that there are more full-time indoor cats nowadays and in the past. This change will accelerate I believe. The change has been quite significant over recent years partly because there are more cat owners in the urban environment and it is impractical to allow a cat out to roam freely unsupervised in many urban environments as it’s too dangerous in terms of road traffic. In the US there are many predators which influence caregivers, such as the coyote.

The study authors do state that there appears to be an increase in the connection between humans and cats in line with an increase in full-time indoor cats. But there is a difference between countries which cuts across this. They state that in the United Kingdom and Denmark, the majority of cats have some kind of outdoor access. Around 25% of cats are kept indoors with 17% in Denmark kept indoors and 26% in United Kingdom. They argue that the emotional connection between cats and people may be shaped by “the degree of contact and dependence”. And that factor may increase when the cat lives indoors full-time.

Life-saving treatments

And they agree as I have done in the first paragraph that “it seems reasonable to conclude that of the four measures besides LAPS, willingness to pay for life-saving treatments is a good measure of how much owners care about their companion animals.”

Previous studies have found that dog owners are prepared to pay more for life-saving treatments and cat owners. In the current study, they state that “In Austria and Denmark, more dog than cat owners would be willing to spend a high amount on life-saving treatments. This is also the case in the United Kingdom, but the differences modest and not statistically significant.”

In Austria, 41% of dog owners and 26% of cat owners were prepared to pay more for life-saving treatments. In Denmark, 27% of dog owners and 11% of cat owners were prepared to do the same while in the UK the percentages were respectively: 34% and 28% which is statistically insignificant according to the researchers.

Universal or cultural?

To stress the point, Dr. Sandoe said the following on this aspect of the study: “It doesn’t 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 upon cultural factors.”

Note: the other researchers were: Clare Palmer Sandra A. Corr, Svenja Springer and Thomas Bøker Lund. Link to the study: https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2023.1237547

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