Two nations: northerners love dogs, southerners prefer cats

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Those who thought that the North-South divide disappeared with the collapse of heavy industry – or when Harvey Nichols opened a store in Leeds in the early 1990s – should perhaps take a closer look at their choice of creature comforts.

While the denizens of Wigan or Pontefract are no more likely to have tea at 5pm after a hard day at t'mill than office-bound burghers of Surrey are to sit down to a supper of beef stroganoff washed down with a cappuccino, the clichés that once divided us may be manifesting themselves in a more animalistic fashion. According to the veterinary charity, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), families in northern England are much more likely to own a dog than those in the South.

Its survey of animal ownership trends, based on analysis of almost 266,000 pets, found that a person's choice of pet varies considerably according to where they live. Almost 75 per cent of PDSA patients in the north of England are dogs, the researchers found. But the proportion of canine patients south of Watford is significantly lower, at about 57 per cent.

Cat ownership also varies by region. In the north, only a quarter of PDSA patients are feline, compared with a third in the south. A typical cat lover – and also a PDSA supporter – is the Oxfordshire-born GMTV presenter Kate Garraway, the proud owner of Scamp.

The Liverpudlian comedian Paul O'Grady, meanwhile, conforms to stereotypes with his pet Buster, a crossbred Shih Tzu-Bichon Frise, who features regularly on his afternoon Channel 4 chat show. The most fervent dog lovers and cat-sceptics, however, are in Northern Ireland, where 80 per cent of PDSA-registered pets are dogs and only 18 per cent are cats.

Elaine Pendlebury, the charity's senior veterinary surgeon, is convinced there is something intrinsically regional in our choice of pet. "In my experience, people either prefer cats or dogs, with a few who love both pets equally. However, people's busy lifestyles and their geographical surroundings can influence their choice of pet," she said.

"Dog ownership seems higher in rural areas, indicating that the many dog-walking opportunities available in the countryside may be an influential factor. Equally, our data suggests that cats prove quite popular with city dwellers, probably because they are far more independent."

The PDSA's "Petsie Index" of cat and dog ownership is part of a regular series of facts and figures released by the charity, charting trends and developments in pet health and ownership.