Most of us are very much devoted to our pets, but a new study shows a discrepancy between dog owners and cat owners in terms of the care and attention they give to their animal companions.

The international team of researchers behind the study compiled the survey results of 2,117 people across the UK, Denmark, and Austria: 844 dog owners, 872 cat owners, and 401 others, who owned both dogs and cats as pets.

The respondents answered questions on their pet health insurance, willingness to pay for life-saving treatments, and emotional attachment to the animals measured through what's known as the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale.

The results suggest people across all three locations tend to value their dogs more than their cats. This gap was largest in Denmark, less so in Austria, and only slightly so for people in the United Kingdom.

"While people care more about their dogs than their cats in all countries, the degree of difference varied dramatically between countries," says bioethicist Peter Sandøe from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. "It doesn't therefore seem to be a universal phenomenon that people care much less about their cats than their dogs."

"We suggest instead that the difference is likely to depend on cultural factors, including whether the animals spend a lot of time with their owners in the home."

Overall, dogs won out in terms of both emotional and financial investment from their owners, but there were variations: in the UK, for instance, there wasn't a statistically significant difference in terms of dog owners and cat owners when it came to what they would spend on life-saving care.

"The British are often portrayed as a nation of cat lovers, which is certainly confirmed by our study," says Sandøe. "The Danes have a long way to go but they may eventually get there."

The researchers say several different underlying causes could be at play: dogs often demand more attention and affection from their owners, for example, while cat behavior tends to be more aloof and solitary, in general.

Then there's the time at which these countries urbanized and started losing connections with rural animals. The UK was the earliest country to do this, then Austria, and Denmark was the latest of the three. That might also be important.

Previous studies have also found dog owners to be more attached to their pets, but this study extends the number of people sampled, and the number of countries covered – suggesting there is variation based on location.

"Our study only looks at three countries located in central and western Europe," says philosopher Clare Palmerat Texas A&M University.

"It raises intriguing questions regarding what comparative studies of other countries might find. Perhaps there are countries where the level of care for and attachment to cats is, in fact, higher than dogs?"

The research has been published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.