Do People Care More for Their Dogs Than for Their Cats?

5 min read
Authentic Creatives

Authentic Creatives

An easy way to start a lively debate in almost any social situation is to raise the issue as to whether cats or dogs are the more valued and loved pets. To date, the scientific data seems to indicate that dogs are, in general, the more cherished species, but the controversy continues. The latest batch of data on this issue attempts to evaluate whether the trend favoring dogs over cats is an international, cross-cultural, phenomenon.

How to Measure Our Preference for Canines Versus Felines

One might think that there is an easy way to evaluate the value of dogs and cats in our lives. You might guess that you simply need to look at the numbers; if dogs are more valued there ought to be more of them as pets than cats. If you look at that statistic you will find that there are more cats can dogs in the U.S., with 86 million owned cats compared to 78 million owned dogs. However, there is a quirk here, since 39 percent of all American households own a dog compared to only 33 percent of American households with cats. The reason is that cat people like higher numbers, with 52 percent owning more than one cat, as compared to dog owners where only 40 percent own more than one dog. More direct psychological measures are needed.

An International Assessment

This newest investigation was headed by Peter Sandøe, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and included an international team of researchers. This study looked at dog and cat owners in three European nations, 1552 from Denmark, 1500 from Austria, and 1558 from the UK. Participants from all three nations were administered a well-known survey instrument called the “Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale,” which asks a series of questions based on statements like “I believe that my pet is my best friend,” to measure the fondness that people have for their pets. The results of this survey: In all of these countries the scores indicated that the affection felt toward dogs was higher than that felt toward cats. There were small national differences, with Denmark scoring highest, followed by Austria and the UK. However, the ranking favoring dogs was similar across all three countries and unambiguous.

Putting a Dollar Value on Our Feelings

I explored this same issue in a study involving more than 6,000 individuals, which I conducted in the mid-1990s. I reported the results in my book “Why We Love the Dogs We Do.” Specifically, I asked participants, “If your pet had a life-threatening problem and could be saved by a medical procedure, how much would you be willing to pay for its treatment?” The average amount that dog owners were willing to pay was approximately twice as much as the amount that cat owners were willing to pay. The actual values were $1,183 for dogs versus $610 for cats. The values sound a bit low, but we’re talking about 1990s dollars.

Nearly two decades later, Colleen Kirk, at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City, followed up my study by asking a similar question and found virtually identical results in that people were willing to spend twice as much for life-saving medical care for their dog than for their cat (although due to inflation the dollar values were considerably larger and the averages were $10,689 for dogs versus $5,174 for cats).

This new European study used a variant of the same question, and for all three nations surveyed, it was confirmed that dog owners were willing to spend more money on veterinary care for their pets than were cat owners. This suggests that the preference for dogs over cats is historically stable since data using similar measures has produced a consistent result over nearly three decades.

Other Measures that Confirm These Trends

Although both dogs and cats provide joy and companionship to their humans, the picture that emerges is that dogs are more emotionally satisfying, and over time and cross-culturally, dogs are also more universally cherished. This newest piece of research confirms what the scientific data has indicated in the past using data from many different sources. For example, among American pet owners, dogs are taken to the vet twice as frequently as cats (even though there is no medical justification for this difference). Furthermore, the emotional investment that we have in dogs shows up in that dog owners are more likely than cat owners to follow their veterinarian’s medical care recommendations, and dogs are more likely to receive preventative care, such as vaccinations, regular physical examinations, and dental treatment. It is also the case that dogs are more likely than cats to be given premium and organic food, and also are more frequently given special gifts.

One last statistic of interest is that the amount of money spent on cat treats is well in excess of $100 million a year, and, while this seems like an astonishing figure, it is tiny compared to the more than $1 billion a year that is spent on dog treats. In my house, at least, giving a pet a treat is simply a way of saying “I love you.”

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

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