Saturday, February 16, 2008

In the nation’s great dog and cat wars, the dogs seem to be winning.

Dog owners feel closer to their pets, thus take better care of them, according to a study released yesterday by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs even get more toys.

The in-depth report is the first to plumb the intricate pet/owner relationship, ultimately concluding the findings were “bad news for cats.”

Currently, 39 percent of U.S. households have a dog, 36 percent a cat — though cats still outnumber dogs, 90 million to 76 million, according to the American Humane Society. The cool, detached stereotype exacts a certain toll on the kitties, the study of 2,000 pet owners found.

While dogs spent 45 hours a week with their owners, cats spent 32 hours a week. And most telling, 58 percent of dog owners said they missed Fido when they were away from home. Among cat owners, the number was 47 percent.

Another 43 percent of the dog people said they consider their pet “a child,” compared with 36 percent of cat people. Almost half of the dog aficionados, 48 percent, frequently buy their furry friend a toy or gift — a gesture that only a third of the cats rated. A third of the dogs were fed “premium” foods, compared with less than a quarter of the cats.

Such findings are reflected in other research. Dogs owners spend an average $107 a year on toys and special treats compared to the $66 cat owners spend, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA).

The pathos continued in the survey, though. Dogs continually triumphed in emotional issues, with owners agreeing that the dog fit in better with the family and were more companionable than cats — by as much as a four-to-one margin in some cases. Forty three percent of the dog owners, for example, said their pet was affectionate, compared to 9 percent of cat owners.

It even translates into shabby treatment for cats.

“Owners who exhibit strong bonds with their pets seek higher levels of care,” the study said. “Cats are seen by veterinarians significantly less often than dogs.”

The loving dog owners, in fact, took their animal to the vet twice as often as the feline owner; another 80 percent of the dog owners said they would spend “any amount to keep their pets healthy” compared to 69 percent of cat owners.

Indeed, according to the APPMA figures, dog owners spend $749 a year on vet visits and vitamins, cat owners $569.

The findings trouble the Illinois-based veterinary group, which blames misguided humans for the most part.

“Cats get shortchanged medically for several reasons. Owners thought their dogs were in need of more routine examinations because they are outside more often than cats. Cat owners were also under the misconception that cats do not get sick and can take care of themselves,” the study said.

“Overall, the message is clear — and equally worrisome. Cats are substantially underserved medically, which presents problems not only in terms of their health, but in terms of public health.”

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