Companion dogs and cats play important roles in many people’s lives as beloved family members. Yet previous studies have consistently shown that on average, dog owners appear more attached to and willing to provide care for their pets compared to cat owners.
Some researchers have speculated this persistent disparity simply reflects differences in typical dog and cat behavior. Dogs, as pack animals, may be inherently more disposed to forming interdependent bonds with humans.
A new comparative study, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, examined representative samples of dog and cat owners in Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom.
The findings reveal varying degrees of difference in owner attachment and willingness to provide veterinary treatment to dogs versus cats across the three European nations. This suggests cultural factors likely shape human attitudes towards cats and dogs.
With growing recognition of the importance of human-animal bonds, this study provokes important discussions. It implies the degree of care and emotional connection people feel towards their feline and canine companions may be more malleable than previously assumed.
Multi-Measure Approach to Comparing Cat and Dog Owners
The cross-national study, conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, utilized data from online surveys of representative samples of adults in Denmark, Austria and the UK.
Around 2,100 total respondents across the three countries identified as dog or cat owners. The survey asked them to provide information about their attachment to and willingness to provide veterinary treatment for up to three of their dogs and cats.
Several measures were used to assess owners’ levels of care and emotional connection to their pets. These included the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS), possession of pet health insurance, willingness to pay for life-saving treatment, and expectations about availability of veterinary diagnostic and treatment options.
The extensive survey data enabled the researchers to statistically compare dog and cat owners within each country. They also analyzed differences between the three countries to test hypotheses about the potential cultural specificity of owner attachment.
By examining multiple indicators of pet care and attachment, the study provides a nuanced perspective on cross-national differences in human-animal relations. The large country-representative samples also bolster the significance of the findings.
Clear Dog Favoritism, With Notable Cross-National Variation
The study’s analysis uncovered some revealing insights. While owners overall showed greater attachment and willingness to treat dogs, the relative difference between dogs and cats fluctuated notably depending on the country.
Dogs Score Higher in Attachment Across Countries
The analysis uncovered clear overall preferences for dogs in terms of emotional attachment. In all three countries studied, dog owners had higher attachment scores on the LAPS assessment compared to cat owners.
But Significant Variation Seen in Relative Difference
While dogs were consistently favored, the degree of difference between dog and cat owners fluctuated notably depending on the country.
For example, on the LAPS measurement, Denmark showed the biggest gap between dog and cat owner attachment. The relative difference was smallest in the UK.
Insurance Coverage Markedly Higher for Dogs
The possession of pet health insurance also demonstrated the variability across countries. Many more dogs than cats were insured in all nations, but Denmark had by far the largest divide – 70% of dogs vs only 22% of cats.
Again the UK showed the most parity in insurance levels between the two species.
Willingness to Pay for Pets Follows Pattern
When asked about paying for life-saving veterinary treatment, a higher percentage of dog owners opted for high dollar amounts in all three countries.
This preference was most extreme in Denmark, while the UK had only a slight lean towards dogs.
Expectations Mixed by Country
The only measure that did not show a consistent dog preference was expectations about veterinary treatment options. Here Denmark was the only country where dog owner expectations exceeded cat owners.
Implications for Human-Pet Relations
The varying degrees of preference for dogs over cats across the three European nations suggests that innate animal behavior alone does not determine human attitudes.
Cultural influences within countries seem to play a substantial role in shaping cat and dog owner differences. Countries with similar urbanization and economic profiles still demonstrated distinct divides between dog and cat owners.
One speculation the researchers propose is that as more cats become kept exclusively indoors, attachment levels may increase. Previous studies in countries with higher indoor cat percentages, like the US, reveal smaller dog-cat attachment gaps.
If validated, this hypothesis could have meaningful implications for human-feline relations going forward. As cultural norms shift towards indoor lifestyles for cats, emotional connections may strengthen.
For the veterinary sector, the study highlights how expectations of care differ dramatically across countries. Danish owners had lower willingness to pay for pet treatment compared to Austria and the UK.
Understanding these cultural attitudes can aid veterinarians in effectively communicating options to clients of different backgrounds.
While limited to three European nations, this research provides valuable insights on the cultural specificity of human-animal bonds. Further cross-cultural studies in diverse global regions could more firmly establish the extent of social and historic influences on pet relations.
Cultural Context Shapes Pet Attitudes
This comparative study of cat and dog owner attachment in three European countries provides important insights. The findings reveal that while overall pet owners show greater attachment and willingness to treat dogs, the relative difference between dogs and cats fluctuates notably depending on the nation.
Denmark exhibited the largest divides between dog and cat owners across measures of attachment, while the UK showed the most parity. This suggests cultural attitudes play a significant role in shaping relations with companion animals.
The research raises intriguing questions for future investigations across diverse global regions. Further illumination of the social factors influencing human-animal bonds could have meaningful implications for improving cat care and welfare.
Overall, the study challenges assumptions that cat behavior alone explains lower attachment levels compared to dogs. Integrating cultural context paints a more nuanced picture of pet relations that opens promising avenues for strengthening cat ownership.