Dog vs. Cat Medicine

Yesterday I said that med spending increased faster for pets, vs. farm animals, suggests that med spending increases are due mainly to demand, not supply, effects. We spend more on pet medicine now more because we care more about pets now, or want to show we care, and less because doctors have invented new useful treatments.

Now consider dog vs. cat medicine. A 2007 source said that at one point annual med spending was $200 per dog and $81 per cat. (It was $92 per horse, $9 per bird. Today we spend $655 per dog; other current figures available here for only $3000. Sigh.) So we spent 2.5 times as much on dog med, vs. cat med. Yet dogs and cats have about the same lifespan (dogs, cats), and similar rates of medical problems:

50% of today’s cat owners never take their cats to a veterinarian for health care. … Because cats tend to keep their problems to themselves, … cats, on an average, are much sicker than dogs by the time they are brought to your veterinarian for treatment. (more)

I doubt we should blame this on cats. It seems more likely that cat owners pay less attention to cats, because they care less:

74 percent of the test sample like dogs a lot, while only 41 percent like cats a lot. … 15 percent of the adults questioned said they disliked cats a lot while the number who said they disliked dogs a lot was only 2 percent. … Dog people were 11 percent more conscientious than cat people. … Cat people were generally about 12 percent more neurotic. (more)

Yet there are more cats than dogs. Note also that both WebMD and wikipedia have pages devoted to dog lifespan; neither have such a page for cats. Dogs are famously more loyal than cats, and it seems plausible that dog owners thus feel more loyal to dogs, and more obligated to help when sick.

I tentatively conclude that we spend 2.5 times as much on dog vs. cat pet medicine mainly because we care more about dogs. This shows a huge demand effect on med spending.

Now consider that in our society many consider men more expendable than women. We send men to war, expect men to put themselves in harms way to protect women, and try to save “women and children first.” Women also go to the doctor a lot more often than men, even though men are on average sicker (they die faster). For 2008 US doctor office visits, here is the ratio of women to men by age:

All,  1.43; <15,  0.93; 15–24, 2.24; 25–44, 2.26; 45–64, 1.39; 65–74, 1.11; >75,  0.95. (more)

This also seems likely to be a demand effect – we spend more on female medicine mainly because we care more about women, or care more to show that we care about them.

Added 7p: That Marketplace show quotes similar numbers for dog and cat spending:

The average dog owner spends $655 a year on health care, that’s up 50 percent from a decade ago. Cat owners are in for $644, up nearly 75 percent.

So did we once to care more about dogs, and now care about the same?

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  • men… die more

    And here I thought everyone died exactly once 😉

    • Michael Vassar

      Slightly more men are born than women so slightly more men die.

  • Khoth

    The ratio of women’s to men’s doctor visits isn’t uniform across age. It almost makes me think there might something that might make women aged 16-44 far more likely to go to a doctor than anyone else. What could it possibly be?

    • Robert Koslover

      Yes, my thoughts exactly.

      • Glenn

        Where did these data come from? Are they disaggregated by type of doctor? I agree that we cannot conclude this is a demand side phenomenom with controlling for obstetrician visits.

    • Possibly the same thing that makes women larger consumers of alternative medicine?

  • Khoth

    Oh, one other thing – possibly the reason women go to the doctor more is because women choose to go to the doctor more, rather than because “we” want to signal caring about women.

    • Nebu Pookins

      I think Men are socialized, at least in North America, to appear “tougher”, to “man up”, and to not be a “wuss”. So in terms of signalling, perhaps the rate at which women go to doctors is the “default” rate, and men may choose to not go to doctors as a form a signalling.

  • Mark M

    After a certain age, men and women largely make their own choices about whether to see a doctor when they are ill. Any signalling is men signalling about men, and women signalling about women. Men like to send signals that they are strong and don’t need help. Women, not so much. This is not a signal about how much society cares, but a signal about how we like to be perceived. It also may also simply be that women have more complicated plumbing and more social support to convince them to seek help when they need it.

    I’m also not sure dying younger means you were sicker during your life.

  • Dogs whine more than cats do. So it is easier to tell they are not feeling well.

    Women….never mind.

  • Carl Shulman

    So women go to the doctor more than men during their childbearing years and childrearing years. An ev-psych caring account could say this is when those around them value them the most, but I would want to see controls for the numerous doctor visits associated with pregnancy, menstruation, etc. Furthermore, since women take on more childrearing, including taking the kids to the doctor, they may also see the doctor at that time.

    Also, men of that age may be trying especially hard to signal strength and bravery while searching for mates, and thus resistant to medical care.

  • Carl Shulman

    In the linked study, gynecological and prenatal examinations plus “normal pregnancy” amount to 7.5% of all female doctor visits. Women in the age 15-44 range make up 33% of all female doctor visits. That alone cuts away a big chunk of the difference.

    However, the ratio in parents taking their already-born kids in for doctor’s appointments seems relatively balanced.

    Table 9 gives visits for leading causes. For women of all ages, they seem to come in more often than men for stomach pain, cramps, back pain, and other areas with connections to pregnancy and menstruation (although these could also reflect male signaling about pain tolerance, and caring for the pain of women). Depe

    Men and women of all ages have similar rates of skin rashes and fever visits, which are relatively objective and not tied to feminine physiology. Gaps are also smaller for general medical checkups. Women have more knee visits but women are also more subject to osteoporosis, so that makes sense.

    The symptoms that most support Robin’s hypothesis seem to be visits for vision, hypertension, earache, throat, and cough, where women have more visits and there is little sex-based explanation.

    Still, the above summary table in the post overstates the effect size that caring and signalling explanations can offer.

    • I agree pregnancy accounts for some added fem doc visits, but it is hard to see how an 7% effect can account for the overall added 43% visits.

  • Yesterday I said that med spending increased faster for pets, vs. farm animals, suggests that med spending increases are due mainly to demand, not supply, effects. We spend more on pet medicine now more because we care more about pets now, or want to show we care, and less because doctors have invented new useful treatments.

    But this was a laughingly unsound argument, which failed to take account of the fact that farm animals are purchased as capital, setting strict limits on the profitable investment. Why not retract this absurd absurd argument, rather than trying to build on this wretched foundation?

    Hanson is angling to use anything to make the U.S. failure to provide adequate medical care for many citizens acceptable by showing “low-status” Americans could make do with less if only their demands hadn’t risen inordinately. We should treat them like farm animals, not pets; or at least like cats, rather than (even) like dogs.

    • richard silliker

      Hanson casts a very wide net in his posts. The scope is great though the extent maybe limited at times. Cut the man some slack and continue to enjoy the ride.

      • Anonymous

        You haven’t actually refuted Stephen R Diamond’s argument here- nobody (even a hypothetical ‘perfect individual’) deserves true fanboyism, so shut up.

      • richard silliker


        What argument, rather sounds more like a rant.

        An argument is an attempt to find the truth. However, in the end you only have your worse best conclusion. All conclusion without the truth are a pride of sin.

      • richard silliker



        sin of pride

      • Anonymous

        What argument, rather sounds more like a rant.

        An argument is an attempt to find the truth. However, in the end you only have your worse best conclusion. All conclusion without the truth are a pride of sin.

        The argument’s there, in my first paragraph, but I can’t take credit. Yvain gets priority for catching the confound in Hanson’s thought experiment. He or she, in fact, posted it as the first comment to Hanson’s post!

      • Cyan

        Yvain‘s a man. (His personal website is linked from his Less Wrong user page.)

    • The spending on pets has not increased uniformly. The number of households with pets is increasing and the number that spend zero on veterinary care is increasing. If more are spending zero, that implies that those that are spending money are spending more, that is the spending is non-uniform.

      Which makes sense. There are lots of families without health insurance. Presumably if you are not buying health care for yourself or your children, you wouldn’t buy it for your pets.

  • So it would be very interesting to know if dogs live longer relative to cats now that they did in the past.

    Another interesting pet related analysis:
    Many people are running around blaming childhood obesity on high fructose corn syrup but according to Garett Jones the rate of pet obesity has climbed in a similar fashion to childhood obesity.

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  • r

    It’s true that cats keep their problems to themselves, but this sure didn’t decrease my cat’s medical bills any.

  • Marshall

    I’m curious to know how much of the difference is a function of selective breeding designs being more prominent among dogs than cats. Essentially, certain breed traits are determined by specific purposes, as opposed to longevity. So, bassetts are probably an archetypal example. It’s an impractical breed for most, and carries considerable health risks.

  • Cyan

    My hypothesis is that people are spending more on pet care primarily because vets became more savvy about marketing their services — sending out reminders for annual checkups, suggesting diagnostic tests, prescribing specially formulated pet food (available exclusively at veterinarians’ offices), etc. This hypothesis entails that the rate of increase in amount spent by dog owners versus cat owners should be roughly equal, since the vets that are doing the selling have both kinds of owners as clients.

  • Has pet lifespan been extended by all this extra healthcare spending?

    • Dave

      Yes. Dogs have a big burden of parasites such as heart worms. They are also susceptible to distemper and others . Thank goodness people are not vulnerable to these things. That is why rabies shots are mandatory but not heart worm pills.

      I also think Cyan has it right. There is this pressure to buy special “scientific ” food from the vet. Many people have been lead to believe table food is horrible for a dog’s health .Having owned many long lived dogs,this is incorrect.

      My vet wanted to clean the dogs teeth under anesthesia. OK but not unless he was getting anesthesia for some other purpose. Cha ching,$65.

      Was this signalling on my part? You should have heard the neighbors talk my dog’s nice teeth.Right?Or maybe I was trying to impress the vet? Perhaps talking too much about signaling is a stronger example of real signaling than veterinary expenditures, even if it is a worthwhile subject.

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  • dog

    dogs are the best because my name is dog

  • LOL

    Arguing isnt trying to find the truth.. lol arguing is having both sides of an argument and trying to convince the target audience that your view is the better of the two. it is close ti a debate but slightly different.