You’re More Likely to Splurge on Your Dog Than Your Cat—Here’s Why

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As pet owners know all too well, owning a pet isn’t cheap. In fact, most American-based dog and cat owners end up spending at least $25,000 on their pets throughout a lifetime. 

However, do pet owners indulge their furry friends equally? Not according to a recent study, which shows that consumers are more likely to splurge on their dogs than on cats. And by “splurge,” we don’t just mean buying specialty pet merchandise or showering pets with treats and gifts. We mean following the vet’s orders to a tee and spending large sums of money to keep four-legged family members healthy. 

There are many reasons why dog owners might feel more emotionally attached to their fur babies than cat owners. Dog lovers and cat lovers have different personality traits (the former tend to be lively and extroverted, whereas the latter are typically introverted and more open to new experiences). There’s also an income disparity between the two groups: on average, dog owners tend to be a bit better off than cat owners.

But Colleen Kirk, assistant professor of marketing at the New York Institute of Technology and author of the new study, thinks that the reason we value dogs more than cats has something to do with the fact that, generally speaking, dogs are obedient. And cats aren’t. 

“When owners feel in control of their pets, strong feelings of psychological ownership and emotional attachment develop,” says Kirk. “And pet owners want to be masters—not servants.” 

According to Kirk’s study, dog owners are prepared to pay more than twice as much as cat owners for life-saving veterinary surgery, but only if they feel like they’re the ones in control of their pet’s behavior. When this sense of ownership isn’t present (for example, if their dog was trained by a previous owner), there’s no significant difference in how much dog owners are willing to spend to save a pet’s life when compared to cat owners. 

This new research builds on a previous study, which suggested that dogs and cats are more likely to be given away if they’ve been obtained from friends as opposed to other sources. As to why this might be so, Kirk thinks that it’s “possible that the salience of a friend’s psychological ownership of the pet makes it more challenging for the adoptive parent to feel ownership for the animal, reducing valuation and leading to increased relinquishment.”

Of course, not all cats are aloof, just like not all dogs are affectionate. The study also found that when a cat behaves like a dog and a dog behaves like a cat, the results are reversed (i.e., consumers will pay more for surgery for sociable cats than introverted dogs). 

So, while this shows that there’s some proof to the popular saying “dogs have masters, cats have staff,” as far as pet health is concerned, having a master might be better than being seen as one.