For the first time in 21 years, dogs overtook cats as the UK’s favourite companion animal and I blame Paris Hilton! According to the latest Pet Population Survey carried out by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) there are 9 million dogs in the UK in 24% of households compared to 8 million cats in 17% of households (see some previous stats). The increase in popularity of the dog is reflected in the stark statistic that there are 389 books on dogs coming out for Christmas on Amazon compared to 312 diet books and 230 books on cats. What is fueling this popularity? Note: statistics are notoriously problematic.
There are several theories. An interesting fact which may shed some light on what is happening is that people are choosing smaller and smaller dogs. These are dogs for the modern age, which are able to fit into small urban spaces and busy lifestyles supported by a burgeoning market in small businesses providing support services to dog owners such as dog walkers, dog crèches and groomers. It seems that the small dog is a substitute for a cat and a reason why some people are making this substitution is the social aspect accompanying dog ownership. Many conversations are started when taking your dog for a walk.
The Kennel Club reports a very strong rise in the popularity of handbag dogs. Is this due to the popular press showing pictures of celebrity woman such as Paris Hilton with their handbag dogs as accessories? For example there has been a 1,232% rise in popularity of the French bulldog from 2003 to 2012. Other popular small dogs are chihuahuas and pugs.
The dramatic rise in popularity of the chihuahua has also been noted in the USA or is it just California? Over 60,000 chihuahuas are registered in the Los Angeles area. This is an oversupply. Chihuahuas are being flown out of the area by, believe it or not, ‘Air Chihuahua’ for adoption in Houston, Texas! The rise in canine popularity can have undesirable side-effects.
The small dog would seem to be taking on some of the convenience characteristics of the domestic cat; domesticated to a point where he/she can live in an urban apartment dominated environment.
Dr Deborah Wells a senior lecturer in psychology at Queen’s University, Belfast states that studies indicate that dogs might be more advantageous to our health than cats. We all know the de-stressing effect of caring for a cat (except when they are ill!) especially when stroking a cat which reduces a person’s blood pressure and heart rate but dogs need to go for walks and in doing so the dog owner takes exercise. Recently there have been many articles in mainstream newspapers on the health benefits of even relatively short walks both in terms of physical and mental health. Walking can be as good as anti-depressants we are told. I can understand that because I like walking and find it beneficial.
As mentioned, taking a dog for a walk also introduces the potential health benefits of socialising. We are told that the UK is the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’. This may partly be because of the disintegration of the concept of marriage and increased single parent families. There are now 9 million single households in the UK which is more than double the number of 40 years ago.
The family dog is a catalyst to increasing our social network on the ground (as opposed to on the internet). Social networks help bolster one’s self-esteem and therefore mental health.
All that said, I prefer cats and I feel this is a passing fad due to celebrities demanding toy dogs as an accessory for the handbag.