A new study has found that pet owners appear to care more about their dogs than their cats — and delves into the possible reasons why. The study, lead by researchers from University of Copenhagen and published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science on Monday, surveyed pet owners aged 18 to 89 in three European countries — Denmark, the U.K. and Austria — to assess the degree to which they care about their cats and dogs.
The survey used several metrics, including what’s known as the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS), which asks owners to respond to 23 statements, including: “I believe that my pet is my best friend.” Participants were also asked about their pet health insurance, their willingness to pay for life-saving treatment, and other questions to determine how much they care for their pets.
The three countries involved in the study are similar in that they are wealthy and highly urbanized, the researchers say. After surveying 17,747 pet owners — nearly evenly divided between dog owners and cat owners — the researchers determined there was a slight preference for dogs in the U.K., a stronger preference for dogs in Austria and an even stronger one in Denmark.
In all countries, dog owners scored higher on LAPS, dogs were more likely to be insured, and more dog owners said they were willing to spend more for life-saving treatment.
But the study noted it varied by country, with only “a very modest difference” between dogs and cats in the U.K. “Therefore, it does not seem to be a universal phenomenon that people care much less about their cats than their dogs,” the authors wrote.
The researchers cited several past studies that looked at how dog owners care about their pets versus cat owners. In one past study, it is hypothesized that dogs’ behavior might help play a role in their owners’ responses. The researchers in the new study wanted to test the “behavior hypothesis,” and they found that it might not be the behavior of the pets, but the culture surrounding them, that influences care. They call this the “cultural hypothesis.”
Other studies, the researchers say, hypothesize that where cats are more likely to spend time indoors, they may become closer to their owners, who in turn care more about them. This was found in studies in Mexico and the U.S., were many felines are indoor cats, according to the study.
In the U.K. and Denmark, where just one out of every four or five cats are kept strictly indoors, and the majority have outdoor access, the study found pet owners in these countries care less about cats. The researchers speculate pet owners’ level of care may be due to their degree of contact and dependence as well as other factors.
The researchers acknowledged the limitations of their study, such as only looking at pet owners in three relatively small European countries, and say more research in other regions is necessary.
The main message of their study, they say, “is that the degree to which owners care about their dogs and cats is not limited or otherwise defined solely by the nature of the animals and may continue to evolve as human lifestyles change.”