People often form strong attachments to their pets, with 97% of American pet owners saying their furry friend is a member of the family. Even further, about half say their pet is just as much a member of the family as their human relatives. Does the level of attachment differ based on whether the pet is a dog or a cat, though? A new study investigated.
Research recently published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science used several metrics to determine if people care about their dogs more than their cats. The team chose to investigate this because previous studies have indicated that dogs take this crown.
The study authors, led by Dr. Peter Sandøe from the University of Copenhagen, write, “Previous studies have shown that cat owners seem to care less about their cats than dog owners care about their dogs – both in terms of their emotional state of attachment and in their willingness to pay for services that potentially benefit the animals. One study speculated that this difference is ‘driven by the behavior of the pet’ – that the behavior of dogs encourages care more than the behavior of cats – and therefore is a universal phenomenon.”
However, they say that past studies only focused on one country, with participants being recruited through convenience sampling. To address these shortcomings, the new study surveyed pet owners in three different countries who were recruited through a survey company. Overall, responses from 2,117 dog and cat owners in Austria, Denmark, and the United Kingdom were included. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 89.
The researchers determined how attached these pet owners were to their dogs and cats through four different methods: the Lexington attachment to pets scale, whether or not they had pet health insurance, how willing they were to spend money on life-saving treatment, and their expectations for diagnostic and treatment options at the vet.
The team found that overall, dog owners scored higher on the Lexington attachment to pets scale, but the difference between cat and dog owners in Austria and the United Kingdom wasn’t as substantial. As for willingness to spend on costly treatments, dog owners in all three countries had a higher threshold they were willing to reach, but respondents from the UK had closer thresholds between dogs and cats. The same was true for the number of people who had pet insurance. As for expectations of vet services, dog owners expected more in Denmark and Austria, but it was the same for both dogs and cats in the UK.
In light of their findings, the team says dogs may take the edge over cats in terms of owner attachment in their study, but it wasn’t so clear cut in the United Kingdom. This shows different countries may have different ideas.
The researchers write, “This speaks against the hypothesis that the prime explanation of cats’ lower rating in terms of human care simply concerns the difference between dog and cat behavior. This supports the idea that something more culturally specific is at work in terms of the relative degree to which people care about dogs and cats.”