Is the love of dogs universal, surpassing that for cats? A scientific investigation spanning three nations has recently revealed that while pet owners might favor dogs over cats, the extent of this preference can drastically differ based on the cultural context.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Peter Sandøe from the University of Copenhagen has embarked on a journey to delve deeper into this topic. “We and others have found that people are willing to spend much less on their cats than on their dogs,” Sandøe said. “We wanted to find out whether cats could eventually end up having the same high status as dogs do today.”
In their pursuit of answers, the team collaborated with a survey company, which helped them gather a representative sample of adult pet owners from Denmark, Austria, and the United Kingdom. Each of these countries has experienced urbanization at different historical points, potentially influencing current attitudes towards pets.
The research sample comprised 2,117 individuals, with a breakdown of 844 dog owners, 872 cat owners, and 401 who had both cats and dogs. The participants were asked to respond to a series of questions, evaluating various aspects of pet care, including their emotional connection to their pets and their financial commitment to their pets’ health.
Across all three nations, the study found a consistent trend: dogs were the favored pets. Owners displayed a stronger emotional bond with their dogs, were more likely to insure them, had higher expectations of medical treatments available for them, and were willing to invest more in their healthcare.
However, the magnitude of this preference varied significantly across countries. “While people care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, the degree of difference varied dramatically between countries,” Sandøe observed. In the UK, the preference for dogs was subtle, but in Austria, it was more pronounced, and in Denmark, the disparity was even more substantial.
This pattern of preference was evident in other aspects of pet care as well. For instance, Danish pet owners demonstrated a significantly lower likelihood of insuring their cats compared to their dogs, and they were also less willing to spend on medical treatments for their cats.
“There seems to be no natural limit to how much people will end up caring about their cats compared to their dogs,” Sandøe said, highlighting that cultural factors, such as the history of human-animal interactions and the role of pets in households, play a crucial role in shaping these attitudes.
“Our study only looks at three countries located in central and western Europe,” cautioned co-author Clare Palmer, a professor of Philosophy at 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?”
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
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