Among the various pets that people choose to share their lives with, dogs and cats stand out as the most popular and beloved companions. In this comprehensive study, we delve into the intricate dynamics of pet ownership by comparing the degree to which dog owners are attached to or care about their dogs with the feelings of cat owners towards their feline friends.
The relationship between humans and their pets is multifaceted, encompassing emotional attachment and a willingness to invest resources in their well-being. This study adopts a holistic perspective on what it means to care for a pet, considering both the emotional connection and the financial commitment made by pet owners. We explore the hypothesis that the sincerity of people’s emotional bonds with their pets should be reflected in their willingness to invest in their pets’ welfare. This is the principle that motivates individuals to “put their money where their mouth is.”
To understand the depth of attachment and care among pet owners, previous studies have employed a variety of scales and metrics. The Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS), which comprises statements like ‘I believe that my pet is my best friend,’ has been used to measure emotional attachment. Some earlier studies utilizing LAPS found that dog owners tended to score higher on attachment than cat owners (1, 2).
Additionally, various other scales, including the Family Bondedness Scale, MDORS, and CORS, have produced similar results, with dog owners consistently showing stronger attachment to their pets (3, 4, 5).
Another significant aspect of measuring pet care is the willingness to pay for services that benefit pets. Studies have examined differences in seeking veterinary care, willingness to spend on life-saving treatments, and the use of various services between dog and cat owners. For example, one study revealed that cats are taken to veterinarians less frequently than dogs, even in households with both species (7). It also found that dog owners were more willing to invest financially in life-saving treatments compared to cat owners.
Moreover, studies have explored the role of time spent with pets, demonstrating that dog owners typically invest more time in their animals than cat owners. The differential use of veterinary services, vaccination rates, and preventative care also favor dogs. These findings collectively suggest that owners care more for their dogs than their cats (7, 8, 9, 10).
Understanding the Disparities
These differences in the degree of attachment and willingness to invest in pet care have been attributed to various factors. One explanation suggests that the greater interaction between humans and dogs, such as walking and training, fosters stronger emotional bonds (5). Additionally, owners perceive dogs as more affectionate and fun to be with than cats (7). While some studies found that cats are easier to care for, dogs evoke stronger emotional bonds, indicating that behavior plays a vital role (4).
The perception of independence in cats compared to the loyalty of dogs has also been explored as a reason for these differences. Dogs are often seen as more attached to their owners, leading to humans considering them as family members, which further strengthens the bond (11).
It has been suggested that the perceived level of control that owners have over their pets influences their emotional attachment. This suggests that people care more about animals they can control, which aligns with dogs’ trainability and obedient nature (9).
The Dog vs. Cat Behavior Hypothesis
Kirk (9) proposes that the behavior of pets plays a central role in determining the extent of human care. When dogs exhibit cat-like behavior or vice versa, the evaluation is reversed. This hypothesis posits that the difference in human attachment to dogs and cats is primarily driven by the animals’ behavior. According to this view, humans are naturally inclined to respond to the behavior of their pets.
The Culture Hypothesis
In contrast, an alternative explanation posits that cultural, historical, and societal factors shape the degree of care that people express for their pets. The Culture Hypothesis suggests that the way dogs and cats are used, housed, and valued varies across cultures, resulting in disparities in attachment. This perspective suggests that cultural norms and historical contingencies influence the depth of care that people exhibit towards their pets.
To determine which of these hypotheses is more credible, this study collected data from representative samples of cat and dog owners in three European countries: Austria, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. By comparing these diverse samples, the study aimed to evaluate whether the differences in pet attachment are consistent across different countries, thereby supporting the Dog vs. Cat Behavior Hypothesis, or whether cultural variations play a significant role, which would support the Culture Hypothesis.
The data was obtained through a questionnaire study on expectations of veterinary care among pet owners, focusing on the availability of veterinary equipment for diagnosis and treatment. This new measure was included because it assumes that people who expect advanced veterinary care are likely to care more for their pets. Additionally, this measure may be influenced by the standards of veterinary practice in the respondents’ respective countries.
The results presented in this study shed light on the complex relationship between pet owners and their dogs and cats in Austria, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. While the prevailing trend suggests that owners generally exhibit stronger attachment and care towards dogs compared to cats, the study reveals significant variations in the degree of attachment and care across these three European countries.
Attachment and Emotional Bond
Across all three countries, dog owners consistently exhibited higher attachment scores on the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS) than cat owners. This outcome reinforces the notion that dog owners tend to form stronger emotional bonds with their pets. The LAPS results align with previous studies, indicating that dog owners often perceive their pets as best friends and display a deep sense of companionship. However, it is crucial to note that while the LAPS scores favored dogs in all three countries, the degree of preference varied significantly.
In the United Kingdom, the difference in attachment between dogs and cats was relatively small, with a slight preference for dogs. In Austria, the preference for dogs was more pronounced, and in Denmark, the difference was even more substantial. These findings challenge the notion that the variance in pet attachment is solely attributed to the different behaviors exhibited by dogs and cats, as implied by the “Dog vs. Cat Behavior Hypothesis.”
Willingness to Invest in Pet Health
When assessing the willingness to pay for life-saving treatments, dog owners in all three countries expressed a greater willingness to invest in medical care for their pets. This result implies that owners are more committed to saving their dogs from severe illnesses, even if it involves a significant financial commitment. The preference for dogs over cats was consistent across the board, reflecting a higher degree of care for dogs.
However, it is important to note that the study observed a more mixed picture when evaluating the owners’ expectations regarding the availability of veterinary equipment for diagnosis and treatment at their usual veterinary practice or clinic. Only Denmark displayed a clear dog vs. cat difference in owner expectations, suggesting that in Denmark, the expectations of more advanced veterinary care for dogs might be higher than for cats.
Cultural and Societal Factors
The differences observed between the three countries challenge the notion that the variations in pet attachment can be solely attributed to differences in pet behavior, as proposed by the “Dog vs. Cat Behavior Hypothesis.” The findings, especially in Denmark and the United Kingdom, support the “Culture Hypothesis,” which posits that cultural, historical, and societal factors play a significant role in shaping the degree of attachment between humans and their pets.
One of the significant cultural factors that appear to influence the degree of attachment is whether cats are kept primarily indoors or allowed outdoor access. The findings suggest that in regions where more cats are kept indoors, the degree of care and attachment towards cats increases. This may be because indoor cats are closer to their owners, more dependent, and exhibit behavior that is more focused on their owners.
The study also found that the presence of cats in Denmark, a country with a stronger agricultural heritage, may be kept at a distance in terms of emotional attachment. In traditional rural settings, dogs and other animals were often working companions, while cats were more independent and less attached to humans. This historical context may continue to influence contemporary attitudes towards cats.
Implications for the Veterinary Sector and Beyond
The insights gained from this study have implications for various stakeholders, including the small animal veterinary sector, commercial sectors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in pet welfare. The findings highlight that the degree to which owners care about their dogs and cats is not a fixed or inherent characteristic of the animals themselves. Instead, it is subject to change and evolution as human lifestyles and cultural norms shift.
One crucial takeaway from this research is that measures of willingness to pay for life-saving treatments appear to be robust indicators of the level of care and attachment that owners have towards their pets. This finding can inform veterinary practitioners and pet insurance providers, enabling them to better cater to the needs and preferences of pet owners.
In conclusion, the complexities of the relationships between humans and their pets, particularly dogs and cats, are influenced by a myriad of factors, including attachment, behavior, and cultural context. The study’s findings encourage a deeper understanding of these dynamics and the recognition that human-pet relationships are not static but continue to evolve in response to changing societal norms and lifestyles. This insight can guide future research, pet care practices, and public policies aimed at promoting the well-being of companion animals and their owners.
The relationship between pet owners and their animals is influenced by a myriad of factors, including emotional attachment, behavior, and cultural norms. This study aimed to shed light on the apparent disparities in pet attachment between dog and cat owners by investigating representative samples across different European countries.
The preliminary findings of this study will be instrumental in determining whether the Dog vs. Cat Behavior Hypothesis or the Culture Hypothesis holds more weight. If the differences in pet attachment persist across these diverse samples, it would lend support to the behavior hypothesis. Conversely, if there are variations in the level of care between countries, this would indicate that cultural factors play a significant role in shaping human-pet relationships.
The complex bond between humans and their pets remains an evolving field of study, and understanding the factors that influence attachment and care is of both scientific and practical importance. It is our hope that this research will contribute to the broader understanding of the relationship between humans and their animal companions and provide insights into the intricate dynamics of pet ownership.
reference link : https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2023.1237547/full