Canine Kings & Feline Pharaohs: Cultural Nuances in Pet Affection

Summary: Researchers explored the emotional and financial investment of pet owners toward their cats and dogs across Denmark, Austria, and the UK. Their research indicated that, across these nations, dogs generally receive more emotional attachment and financial care than cats. Yet, the extent of this preference varied significantly between countries, suggesting cultural differences in pet treatment.

The study challenges the notion of a universal bias, pointing towards a more complex interplay of cultural and historical factors.

Key Facts:

  1. Dog owners across Denmark, Austria, and the UK typically showed higher emotional attachment and were willing to invest more in veterinary care for their dogs compared to cats.
  2. The difference in attachment and care was most pronounced in Denmark, less so in Austria, and minimal in the UK.
  3. Historical and cultural factors, like a nation’s closeness to its agricultural past, might influence these attitudes towards pets.

Source: Frontiers

Do canines get more care? Some studies have suggested pet owners are less emotionally attached to and less willing to finance care for cats than dogs, possibly because of cats’ behavior: cats may be perceived as caring less about humans and needing less care in return. But these studies are often conducted on non-representative samples and don’t consider possible cultural differences in attitudes to pets.

A team of scientists led by Dr Peter Sandøe of the University of Copenhagen decided to investigate further.

This shows a kitten and puppy.
Although the preference for dogs was only slight in the UK, in Austria the preference was more marked, and in Denmark it was very marked. Credit: Neuroscience News

“We and others have found that people are willing to spend much less on their cats than on their dogs,” said Sandøe, first author of the study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. “We wanted to find out whether cats could eventually end up having the same high status as dogs do today.”

Paws for thought

The scientists employed a survey company to recruit representative samples of adult pet owners from three countries: Denmark, Austria, and the United Kingdom. These three western and central European countries are similar in many ways, but they all urbanized at different points in history: the UK earliest, Denmark latest, and Austria between the two. The scientists hypothesized that a more distant history with rural animals among the general population is a cultural factor that might affect societal attitudes towards pets today.

The scientists’ final sample of pet owners consisted of 2,117 people who owned either dogs or cats: 844 dog owners, 872 cat owners, and 401 owners who owned both dogs and cats. These respondents were asked to answer questions aimed at understanding a variety of different dimensions of care.

These questions included the Lexington attachment to pets scale, which aims at understanding owners’ emotional attachment, as well as questions about how much they invest in veterinary care and their expectations for available care.

Caring in different countries

The scientists found that people appeared to care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries across all measures. They had higher attachment scores for their dogs, insured their dogs more often, generally expected more treatment options to be available for dogs, and would pay more for those treatments.

However, there were striking differences in attitudes between countries. Although the preference for dogs was only slight in the UK, in Austria the preference was more marked, and in Denmark it was very marked.

“While people care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, the degree of difference varied dramatically between countries,” said Sandøe.

“It doesn’t therefore seem to be a universal phenomenon that people care much less about their cats than their dogs. We suggest instead that the difference is likely to depend on cultural factors, including whether the animals spend a lot of time with their owners in the home.”

The pattern repeated across other measures. The difference between dog and cat owners’ reported emotional attachment was greater in Denmark than the other countries, and Danish owners were much less likely to have bought insurance for their cats than their dogs. The difference in willingness to pay for treatment was again much greater in Denmark.

“There seems to be no natural limit to how much people will end up caring about their cats compared to their dogs,” concluded Sandøe. “The British are often portrayed as a nation of cat lovers, which is certainly confirmed by our study. The Danes have a long way to go but they may eventually get there.”

Pets around the world

This may be due to a more recent more agricultural past, where most animals are kept at a greater distance, and dogs work much more closely with humans than cats. However, other factors could be involved.

For instance, people may take more care to insure their dogs because dog treatment is more expensive, or report greater attachment to dogs because the dogs help them in everyday life — for instance, with exercise.

“Our study only looks at three countries located in central and western Europe,” cautioned Professor Clare Palmer of Texas A&M University, a co-author of the paper. “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?”

About this psychology research news

Author: Angharad Brewer Gillham
Source: Frontiers
Contact: Angharad Brewer Gillham – Frontiers
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Do people really care less about their cats than about their dogs? A comparative study in three European countries” by Peter Sandøe et al. Frontiers in Veterinary Science


Do people really care less about their cats than about their dogs? A comparative study in three European countries

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, previous studies mostly relied on convenience sampling of owners and were undertaken in single countries.

Based on responses to a questionnaire from cat and dog owners drawn from representative samples of citizens (18 to 89 years of age) in three different European countries, Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom, we tested the degree to which owners care about their cats and dogs.

We used four different measures: Lexington attachment to pets scale (LAPS), possession of pet health insurance, willingness to pay for life-saving treatment, and expectation of veterinary diagnostic and treatment options. Dog owners had higher LAPS scores in all countries. However, the difference between dog and cat owners was greater in Denmark than in Austria and the United Kingdom.

More dogs than cats were insured in all three countries, but the ratio was much less skewed in favor of dogs in the United Kingdom compared to Denmark. In terms of expensive life-saving treatment, in every country, more dog owners than cat owners were willing to spend over a certain amount, but the differences were much more pronounced in Denmark compared to the United Kingdom.

In Denmark and Austria, dog owners expected more veterinary treatment options to be available, but species made no difference to the expectations of UK owners. People care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, but with a clear cross-country variation and a very modest difference in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it does not seem to be a universal phenomenon that people care much less about their cats than their dogs.

This finding has practical implications for future efforts to expand the level of veterinary services provided for cat owners.

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