Dog lovers and cat lovers have long argued over the merits of and love for their four-legged friends. Pet owners often fall on one side of the line or other and have intense feelings for their favored species. Those preferences that make people dog lovers versus cat people run deep in personalities, but also surprisingly are impacted by geographic differences both in sections of the U.S. and the world. The division extends beyond individual preferences and into geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.
Slightly more American households have cats (95.6 million) than dogs (83.3 million) according to 2012 data. The number of dogs has grown significantly in recent years as the human birth rates have declined. Conversely, in Europe, where birth rates have also declined, the opposite is true. Cats far outnumber dogs on that continent and their numbers are growing.
One theory for why cats dominate in Europe has to do with the compact European living conditions, much like the reason for their smaller vehicles and Vespas. Cats are more compact. They fit in any home and do not need walking or as much attention. That differs from dogs who come in all sizes and need walking, toys and companionship. That difference may also explain why ownership of small dogs (those at or under 20 pounds) has doubled in the last 15 years in the U.S., particularly in areas with more apartment dwellers and higher population density.
While most states have a balanced dog-to-cat ratio, there are parts of the country that favor one species over the other. Cats are more popular than dogs in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Massachusetts has the highest cat domination rate with 1.87 cats for every dog. On the flip side, dogs are clearly favored in the South and Southwest. Arkansas is the most dog-heavy state, in which dogs outnumber cats 1.35-to-1.
Outside the U.S., there are differences in world pet populations by culture, although some seem inexplicable. As reported in the Washington Post, Euromonitor has estimated the pet canine and feline populations within more than 50 countries. Highly developed countries tend to have more even cat and dog populations. “There’s a correlation between developed economies and balanced pet preferences,” according to Jared Koerten, a pet industry analyst with Euromonitor.
Brazil tops the list of dog lovers outside the U.S. with nearly 36 million pups present. (They reportedly have more dogs in Brazil than Canada has people.) Brazil has an affinity for small dogs. More than half of the dogs in Brazil’s pet population weigh 20 pounds or less.
In other parts of Latin America, there are large dog populations too. In fact, four countries there—Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil—are among the top 10 in the world for dog penetration. Additionally, the average home in those four countries typically has more than one dog.
However, many areas show a dramatic difference in dog versus cat preferences. In India, for example, dogs outnumber cats 10-to-1 as pets. In China, dogs enjoy a 2.5-to-1 advantage. On the flip side, cats rule by a 3-to-1 margin in Austria, Switzerland and Turkey.
Cats are the more populous pet in most of Western Europe (exceptions are Ireland, Spain and Portugal). The Middle East and parts of Africa favor cats too.
Geographic differences clearly come into play in cultural tendencies to more cat people versus dog people. Those who have pets – regardless of species – enjoy having them as family members.
By Dyanne Weiss