Dog ownership, like cocaine use, can be seen as an economic indicator. As incomes rise, some people can afford to have pets for the first time, while others decide they can spring for new toys, trips to the groomer, or pricey organic kibbles. On a macro level, as countries develop, new industries—dog shows, puppy hotels—grow up around dog doting and pampering.
Unsurprisingly, the US remains the paragon of dog love, with the world’s biggest pet pooch population in both absolute and per capita terms (one dog for every four Americans). But elsewhere, dogs are on the rise, and the rapid changes in the extent and nature of ownership reflect new economic realities.
India has the fastest growing dog population
India is the world’s second-most populous country, but since it’s still largely rural and poor, it has one of the world’s lowest rates of dog ownership: 4 dogs per 1,000 people. That’s quickly changing, though, with the total number of pups swelling by 58% between 2007 and 2012, according to market research firm Euromonitor International—the fastest growth rate of the 53 countries surveyed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Switzerland saw its dog population shrink by 10% in that period.
In many places, the number of pets is spreading faster than the awareness of how to raise them; it’s often up to vets, public health officials, and the media to educate first-time owners on how to handle their animals. Three-quarters of the world’s dogs are thought to be strays, and in some Indian cities, near-epidemic waves of dog bites have left officials scrambling, conducting dog “censuses” to identify the size of the problem, and sometimes to capture, spay, vaccinate and then re-release the animals.
Meanwhile, among India’s upper class, high-end dog trainers are helping to housebreak pampered pups in big cities, where US-based DOGTV is now available via satellite, playing calm music for pets left at home alone along with shows supposedly intended to improve their behavior.
Brazil has the most small dogs per-capita
Members of Brazil’s rapidly urbanizing middle class are working more, earning more, and having kids later. And to fill their tiny apartments in the meantime, they’re buying more and more dogs as pets. Brazilians, in fact, have nearly 20 million small dogs at home—more per capita than any country in the world, according to the Euromonitor survey.
Latin America has a long dog-owning tradition: Some pups were even found buried with their Inca owners around Machu Pichhu. Today, four countries—Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico—rank in the world’s top 10 for household penetration. The average home in those countries is more likely to have a pooch than not have one.
Brazil tops the list in absolute terms, with nearly 36 million pups—more dogs than Canada has people. Some 55% of those dogs weigh less than 20 pounds (9.1 kilos), as tiny terriers, shih tzus, and chihuahuas fit with the lives of the 85% of Brazilians who live in cramped urban areas. Brazilian dogs are taken in droves to be blessed by priests in honor of St. Francis of Assis; a few are even ferried about in “pet taxis,” taken for dog face lifts, or brought to breed in a doggie “love motel.”
The Philippines are the dog capital of East Asia
Asia may be the birthplace of the dog—researchers believe that wolves were first tamed into pets near China some 15,000 years ago—but it has not built on that distinction. Asian countries today have some of the lowest dog ownership rates in the world. Though jam-packed Hong Kong and city-state Singapore have the most dogs-per-square-mile, both rank among the lowest in dog owners per person. China has even fewer: barely more than two pet dogs for every 100 people.
That’s not the case for the Philippines, which stands out as East Asia’s biggest dog owner, with six times the per-capita number of pets seen in China. In the Philippines, there is one pet dog for every 8 people, whereas in Japan, which has the second-most pups per capita in East Asia, there is only one dog for every 11 people. The reason, Euromonitor suggests, is that increased remittances from migrant workers have boosted disposable incomes and pet spending.
Muslim countries prefer big dogs
Middle Eastern countries and Indonesia have some of the world’s lowest per-capita dog rates, in part due to Islamic traditions that cast dogs as unclean. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Indonesia all have fewer than two dogs for every 1,000 people—the lowest per capita ownership rates of 53 countries surveyed by Euromonitor.
Those countries also have the highest proportion of big dogs, likely because citizens keep dogs around for security or help with hunting, not for companionship.
In Egypt, dog-owning expatriates are inspiring a cultural shift, and Westernization and economic growth throughout the Muslim world are driving a surge in pet ownership. Even Saudi Arabia, which called for a ban on the sale of cats and dogs in 2006, has grown fond of German Shepherds, Labs, St. Bernards, and Great Danes. And Egypt and the UAE now both play host to the ultimate expression of canine admiration: the dog show.
While big dogs are popular in the UAE, there are restrictions on having guard dogs that are too mean: some 16 breeds, including Huskies, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers, are technically banned (PDF) in Dubai. In fact, seven of these fiercer breeds were disqualified from the Dubai Pet Show earlier this year after a pitt bull mauled a contestant toy poodle.
Norwegians spend the most on dog food per dog
Europe is a dog-friendly place. Countries across the region have more dogs per capita and per square mile than most other parts of the world (although in some European nations, the total pooch population has been shrinking along with the species that owns them).
Not surprisingly, Europeans pay more to feed their dogs: Eight of the top 10 dog-food nations, by spending per dog, are from the continent, according Euromonitor. Norway (PDF) ranks in first place.
Norwegians spent the equivalent of $639 a year on food per pup, according to Euromonitor—almost 50% more than the second-place Swiss—buying costlier organic and “diet” dog chow that can come in meal-sized packs instead of giant sacks, a trend that pet food marketers call “premiumization.” In contrast, Vietnamese spend just $0.75 per dog. In poorer countries, many pets often still live off table scraps, making dog food itself a luxury product. (In India, wealthy pet owners sometimes have human food cooked for their dogs. That degree of pampering is not reflected in the Euromonitor survey, which focused only on pet food).