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Cat vs. Dog: Which Pet is Best for Me?

Considering getting a pet but unsure if you want a cat or dog? Here are 10 differences to consider.

by Savannah Admire, | May 17, 2024

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Cat vs. Dog: Which Pet is Best for Me?

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Adopting a pet can be a truly life-changing experience. They can bring you joy, friendship, and unconditional love, and even improve your mental health and well-being. But if you’ve never had a pet before — and you happen to be both a dog and a cat person — it can be really tough choosing between them. Both pets can offer playtime, snuggles, and companionship, but one pet may be a better match than the other to your specific home and lifestyle. How to choose? Keep reading, and we’ll guide you through that process.

What are the similarities between cats and dogs as pets?

Let’s start with the commonalities between these pets. They both:

  • Provide affection and companionship to their pet parents

  • Boost their pet parents’ mental and even physical health

  • Can add color and joy to your lives

  • Motivate you to take care of yourself

10 differences between cats and dogs as pets

Of course, there are some compelling contrasts between cats and dogs, too. For instance, taking care of a dog, especially a puppy, is more comparable to raising a young child than having a cat. Dogs require much more attention, training, and time — from house training (which takes a lot of patience) to learning basic commands like “sit” and “stay.”

On the flip side, cats instinctively know how to use a litter box, and often only need to learn where the box is to consistently use it. Unlike dogs, cats don’t need your constant presence or attention, although they do like having you around. Here is a breakdown of 10 differences between cats and dogs.

Lifespan

Dogs and cats both make great companions, but there can be a big gap when it comes to their lifespans. A dog’s lifespan varies based by breed, size, and health issues. But as a rule of thumb, smaller dogs usually have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, while larger dogs live for 10 to 12 years. Cats tend to live significantly longer, averaging 15 to 20 years.

Personality

When comparing a dog’s personality to a cat’s personality, it’s important to consider the biggest difference: Dogs are pack animals, which means they tend to be very social and enjoy being around people, especially their families. Dogs are eager to please and learn new tricks or commands — and will do them well to make their pet parents happy. If you want a pet who will snuggle up to you on the couch, a dog is often a good choice, because they enjoy attention and closeness.

Cats are more solitary animals in the wild, and this trait is also apparent in their more independent nature in domestic settings. To many people, cats seem more aloof than dogs because they’re often around the house doing their own thing and only seek out attention when they crave it. Cats like having their own space. So while a dog may cozy up to you at night, a cat is more likely to roam the house and use later hours as playtime.

Training

Dogs are usually easier to train than cats. This is good because dogs often need much more training, because they interact with people more frequently. Due to their pack mentality, dogs look for a leader and are more obedient. But how do you train a dog? Positive reinforcement works well for training dogs, especially if they’re food-motivated. Still, each dog has their own personality, and some may do better with training than others. If you’re a new pup parent, know that house training will take time and patience.

While cats may be more independent (not to mention physically flexible), they still require some training. But how do you train a cat? Fortunately, you don’t have to train your cat to use a litter box. They will quickly pick that up on their own. But you will have to train a cat to use scratching posts (instead of destroying your furniture) and may have to train-away unwanted behaviors like jumping on counters. Some cats even enjoy learning tricks, just like dogs.

Grooming

Cats are much more low-maintenance because they clean themselves and only need a bath if they get really dirty. However, you should still brush your cat at least once a week to reduce shedding and avoid matted fur.

Depending on the breed and type of coat, a dog may require regular grooming and even regular trims to stay healthy and clean. At the bare minimum, your dog should have a bath every six to eight weeks, as well as regular brushing. For more extensive grooming, you may want to hire the services of a professional dog groomer.

Living Space

Dogs do well with plenty of space to run and play, so if you have a fenced backyard, a pup may be a good fit for you. Because dogs are so adaptable, many dogs can likewise be happy in a small apartment or home. But if you do have limited space, be prepared to find outlets for their energy — whether that means a walk around the neighborhood or joining you for a hike or jog.

Cats need far less space than dogs, making them ideal companions for those who live in smaller homes. A cat can get all their exercise by playing indoors, which is also a great bonding opportunity for you and your pet.

Exercise

Dogs require a lot of mental and physical stimulation, which means regular playtime and walks. Because of their need for fresh air and movement, dogs often work best with people who have fenced backyards, plenty of space, plus time for daily exercise. As a bonus, having a dog can motivate you to exercise as well — another way that this pet can be good for your health. But exactly how much exercise does a dog need? That will depend on the breed and size. 

Cats, meanwhile, do need some exercise. But they can exercise via indoor playtime and can even entertain themselves. Unlike dogs, cats don’t require regular walks, making them better companions for people with busy or less active lifestyles.

Noise

Dogs can sometimes be loud, depending on their temperament. Some dogs are more prone to barking and howling, which can be disruptive to both you and your neighbors, especially if you live in an apartment or condo. Cats, however, tend to be quieter pets. Even at their loudest, they usually aren’t as vocal as their canine counterparts.

Poop

No one wants to deal with poop, but it’s part of pet parenthood. Adopting a dog means cleaning up after them on walks outside (if ocassionally in your home during house training). Cats relieve themselves in an indoor litter box, which can be a no-go for pet parents who don’t want to be responsible for keeping that litter box clean. Because if you don’t, the pungent odor of cat urine and poop will quickly take over your house.

Behaviors

No pet is perfect, and both cats and dogs come with their own types of — to put it kindly — self-expression. Dogs are often known for being mischievous, especially when left alone, from digging holes in the backyard to jumping on guests. Fortunately, with patience and positive reinforcement, these undesirable behaviors can be trained away. Cats have their own brand of shenanigans, such as scratching up furniture. And felines allowed outdoors can be dangerous to local wildlife, such as birds, which is a good reason to keep your cat inside.

Costs

Finances are an important consideration before you get any pet. And for starters, dogs tend to be more expensive to care for, partly because they’re more prone to health issues and injuries caused by physical activity. If you travel, dogs will also need to be boarded in a kennel or you will have to hire a pet sitter. Some dog parents also choose to send their pups to daycare while they’re at work for the day. Add to that food, toys, training classes, and multiple other needs, and the cost of taking care of a dog can add up.

Because cats are a bit more independent, they really only rely on their human parents for food and a clean litter box, which means they tend to cost less. Cat toys also tend to be cheaper than dog toys. And while cats still need annual vet visits, they’re less likely to become injured and require additional medical care.

Which pet is best for me, a cat vs. a dog?

Cats and dogs aren’t the only ones with personality differences. That same comparison can easily apply to cat people versus dog people, too. Dog people tend to be more extroverted and social, eager to make friends and be around other people. Cat parents, on the other hand, may be more introverted but also tend to be more open, a trait that includes appreciation for art, imagination, and curiosity. Dog pet parents, in turn, believe dogs are better because they are more active and social, while cat pet parents think cats are better because they’re more independent. 

According to one study, people with dogs are more likely to be involved in active pursuits such as sports, dancing, and travel, while cat people will probably enjoy reading, gardening, and writing.

Signs you should adopt a cat

Cats are more adaptable to busy lifestyles and smaller homes. With that in mind, a cat may be a good pet for you if:

  • You work long hours or have a demanding job

  • You travel often

  • You live in a small space

  • You have a lower budget for pet care

  • You prefer your pet to be less dependent on you

  • You’re a homebody

Signs you should adopt a dog

Dog parenthood is better for people who are prepared to invest time in pet parenthood. Here are a few signs that adopting a dog may be right for you:

  • You have an active lifestyle and love to be outside

  • You have time to care for and train a pet

  • You like having a pet to snuggle with and cuddle

  • You don’t travel frequently (or you’re prepared to take your pup with you)

  • You have a bit more income for unexpected vet visits

How to adopt a cat or dog

Pets require attention, time, money, play, love, and regular veterinary care. Each animal has their own personality, so before you adopt a dog or cat, it’s important to spend time with your potential pet and get a read on if they’d fit into your lifestyle. If you’re ready for the commitment, you can explore available dogs and cats on Adopt a Pet, sorting by everything from breed to color to location.

Commonly asked questions

Are cats easier to care for than dogs?

Cats are easier to care for than dogs because they require less time and attention. Their independent nature makes it easier to meet their needs.

Do dogs need more exercise than cats?

Yes, dogs are much more active than cats and require more exercise, especially time outdoors to expend energy. Cats, however, can get plenty of playtime and exercise indoors.

Are dogs more affectionate than cats?

Both pets are affectionate, just in different ways. Dogs are more overtly loving: licking you, asking for attention, cuddling, and rousing you to play with them. Cats are a bit more reserved, but will come to you when they’re in the mood to be pet or play with you. 

Are cats cleaner than dogs?

Yes, cats tend to be cleaner than dogs, partly because they groom themselves frequently. Dogs spend more time outside and do not groom themselves, so they’re more likely to track in dirt or mud.

References: 

Factors Informing the Return of Adopted Dogs and Cats to an Animal Shelter

New Research Shows Why Cats Are More Independent Than Dogs

Pet-Human Relationships: Dogs versus Cats

Research Shows Personality Differences Between Cat and Dog People

Successful and Unsuccessful PET Adoptions

Savannah Admire

Savannah Admire

Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.

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