Official regulations concerning pet ownership can vary from one country to another, just as they can vary from one town to the next. But when it comes to the personal side of pet ownership, are there differences between how Americans and Australians treat pets? Let’s take a look.
Worldwide, the US ranks #1 for both dog and cat ownership, with well over 70,000,000 pet dogs and even more pet cats. Australia ranks about #18 for dogs (4.2 million) and #17 for cats (3.3 million).
Fun trivia tidbits
Noteworthy facts about how Australians care for pets:
- The Sydney Morning Herald reports the country has 2 million more pets than people
- 63% of homes have at least one pet
- They spend about $8 billion on them annually
- 53% of people who don’t have a pet want one
- 92% keep their cat indoors, and 76% keep their dog indoors
- 12% of baby boomers purchase pet insurance, but 20% of Generation Y cat pets have insurance and 27% of Gen Y dog pets have insurance
Noteworthy facts about how Americans treat pets:
- More than 40% of homes have a dog, about a third have a cat
- They spend $50 billion on them each year
- 27% have had a professional photograph taken of their pet
- 36% buy their dog birthday presents
- 90% say pets are part of their family
- Half admit they talk to their pets (want to bet that number is even higher?)
The country with the highest percentage of pet ownership? New Zealand.
What science Says
The relationship between people and their pets has been widely studied in the US, Australia, and elsewhere. One study surveyed dog owners in three American cities and Perth, Western Australia. They found a common underlying theme: your pet helps you make friends, regardless where you live. These comments should sound familiar:
- From Nashville, Tennessee, USA: “It's made me think that we have a great deal in common. We found that we are like minded about some other things. Having our cats as a point in common has made it easier for us to become friends.”
- From Perth: “Whenever I head out for my walks to the park with my dog I bump into the same people who also walk their dog, and through this you become friends with the people.”
- From Perth: “The cat steals people’s socks from their houses, and then I return them. It's a good way to get to know people. They all think it is hilarious.”
Researchers did find a few slight differences in how Australians and Americans treat pets. For instance, American dog owners consider people they meet via their dog to be friends. Not so much for Americans with other types of pets. And not so much for Australian dog owners. On the other hand, 40.5% of pet owners in a different Perth study said they had made friends around the neighborhood thanks to their pet.
All in all, the researchers noted “pets may be an important factor in developing healthy neighborhoods” in both America and Australia.
A different perspective
Are we comparing how we treat pets the wrong way? Maybe the differences aren’t so great between the US and Australia as they are between dog and cat owners. Scientists at the University of Melbourne looked into this. They concluded, “Given the significant role that pets play in many people’s lives, the ways in which personal characteristics relate to pet preferences can illuminate the nature of the connection between humans and domestic animals among millions of pet owners.”
But they weren’t able to shed any clear light on the question of “dog people” versus “cat people.” After studying past research and their own survey results, this research team suggested that it’s more likely we prefer pets whose personalities are opposite of our own rather than similar. For instance dominant or competitive people may prefer dogs because they tend to be more submissive than cats.
The evidence continues to be inconclusive.
So what do you think?
Many American expats live in Australia, and vice versa. If you’ve been lucky enough to reside in both countries, what differences have you noted in the way we treat pets? Does it matter? Maybe it’s enough to know that pet ownership is a unifying commonality between the two countries. Australian and American pet parents revere their furry companions – so much so we’re willing to go overboard for them, just as we would for any family member.