Why owners spend more on their dogs than cats: they want to be masters not servants

The old adage: dogs are servants to humans and humans are servants to cats explains why people spend more on dogs than cats.

This is an interesting article on the theconversation.com website which helps explain why the veterinary bills for dogs is much higher than that for cats in America. This has been put down to various reasons before such as the domestic cat is more independent and therefore out of sight and out of mind.

Dog servants and cat masters
Dog servants and cat masters
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However, the article’s author, Colleen P. Kirk, Assistant Professor of Marketing, New York Institute of Technology, came to the conclusion that as people prefer to be masters of their pet and as dogs are more obedient and subservient, they hold more economic value than cats. In other words, owners are prepared to provide more money to support their companion animals’ health and welfare than they are with respect to cats.

Dog owners are more willing to pay which is an indicator of the ‘economic value’ rather than the emotional value of dogs over cats. Specifically, in a test online, it was found that dog owners, on average, decided that they would pay $10,689 to save the life of their pet. Cat owners said that they would pay less than half of that figure. This clearly points to a marked difference in value of these two most popular companion animals.

The test also indicated that dog owners perceived that they had more control and “psychological ownership” of their companion animal compared to cats. The authors suggest that this might be the reason for the dramatic difference in spending.

In an interesting variation on the experiment the cat and dog owners were told that their cat’s behaviour was a result of training received from a previous owner. This totally broke, apparently, the perception of ownership and economic value.

This led to a third question: do pet owners value dogs for their own sake or because there are more compliant than cats? In other words how much does the companion animal’s behaviour dictate how much their owners are prepared to pay.

Participants when told that their dog behaved like a cat valued their dog substantially less than would otherwise be the case.

The author refers to “psychological ownership” as a major influence on how they valued their companion animals. When people control their pet’s behaviour they feel they own the animal, and ownership can mean the animal complying with the owner’s wishes as well as physical control.


It appears that ‘ownership’ is a major influence on people with respect to the value of their relationship with their companion animal. I think that this is a very negative finding. It’s interesting though because we often talk about cats not having an owner in part because they sometimes wander off and find a new owner. They are independent or this is the human perception. It is not true but that’s the image some have.

Dogs are compliant and a servant to their master. Humans are a cat’s servant. This can be tough for the psychologically fragile human to accept.

I think it points to a weakness in people in that they equate value with ownership. It seems to be pointing to the fact that people treat companion animals as objects, not that different from their car in the driveway or their home in a nice suburb. And it also points to the emotional vulnerability of humans. They need control over their environment. They often don’t have it. Being a master over a dog appears to satisfy their emotional needs for which they reward their dog with better health care and incumbent costs.

The Conversation.com article

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3 thoughts on “Why owners spend more on their dogs than cats: they want to be masters not servants”

  1. This article sure doesnt apply to me since all 15 of my cats are spoiled,I have more cat toys and cat trees in my home than I do actual furniture and eventually I will have a cat highway built in my living room since most of my cats are tree dwellers than they are bush dwellers.

  2. Dogs have been bred for eons to be submissive to humans. As to veterinary bills Kittens were monsterous and Mercy oral surgery anything but a discount and frog and toad and raising them using the correct vaccines and protocol as well as a qualified DVM doing their spays it was quite a money drop around here. You want real veterinary bills ask a horse owner where surgeries for that family member can wipe out retirement.

    I am my cats guardian. I protect, feed, play , provide stimulating play and toys and an environment meant for a vertical climbing animal. Most dogs I see are toted around like stuffed animals ( the smaller ones ) and the bigger ones are either crated all day to avoid the destruction caused by separation anxiety or are lunging at the end of a lead with the constant threat of escape or toppling their owner.

    I do not understand the pleasure of dog ownership aside from having something that greets you like a nut case at the door while peeing on itself.

    While my clowder greets me it is much more sublime and gentle and relaxing as they have spent the day just being cats.


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