Q&A: Cats vs. Dogs

Q: My husband and I finally bought our first home, so we can get a pet. I want a cat, but he still wants to be open to getting a dog. How can I convince him that cats are better pets?

A: Congrats on buying your home! I recommend doing the bulk of painting and any other work that would cause harmful fumes, dangerous environment, or other pet-unfriendly situations before you adopt.

Now onto your real question…

Which is better: elephants or giraffes? Whales or immortal jellyfish? Hamsters or ferrets? You might find these things in the same sort of habitat, but they are completely different animals.

Asking which one is better does not give us knowledge. It confuses the issue, and the facts get lost in the fog. And because there is no logical, objective answer to this question, it leaves people feeling vulnerable, and thus they are likely to get overly emotional (also because we love our pets a great deal). When has a lack of logic plus overly emotional people ever equaled positive discourse on the internet?

Adopting a pet is a big deal. It’s a great responsibility, and I’m very happy that you and your husband are ready to take this step. Instead of looking at this situation as cat vs. dog, you should look at it as trying to find the best companion for both of you. And if you plan on adopting a young cat or dog, this is a responsibility that will span more than a decade (likely even a few if you don’t allow that pet outside on its own, feed it the best diet for that animal, get regular vet care, provide enrichment, etc.).

There are differences between cats and dogs, some minor, some major. It also depends on the breed. For example, our last dog, Alaska, acted much more like a giant cat than a dog, and there are cats that are more dog-like (like Ragdolls). So you need to consider a lot of factors before selecting an animal to adopt.

The main difference comes down to this: Cats consider us to be equals. Dogs consider us to be superior.

Write down all the things that you want in a pet.  Have your husband do the same thing. Make sure these are qualities that are real and not just stereotypes. Don’t attach these things to either cats or dogs. Just list the qualities.

There is a great deal to consider, so take time to really think about this, and try not to let your biases or preconceptions color your true thoughts, wants, and needs.

Answer the following questions in your notes:

  • Will you be able to live with pet hair, a litter box, scooping poop from the yard or on a walk (cats can go on walks too), and the occasional wear-and-tear caused by pets?
  • You say cats are better. Why? What qualities do they bring to the home that you would like to have in a pet? Remember, avoid using the words “dog” or “cat.”
  • How much space do you have inside and outside your home? Do you have a fenced yard? Will you want an outdoor enclosure (a catio or better fencing) so your pet can spend time safely outdoors?
  • How much time do you have to spend with a pet? No matter what pet you choose, you need to make sure you have the time. It isn’t true that cats are okay spending most of their day alone. They need at least 15 minutes of play twice a day (more for a kitten or young cat), and they need snuggle time or relaxing time just to be with you (at least 3 hours, but ideally more).
  • What is your activity level? Are you sedentary or physically active?
  • Do you have the financial resources if your pet has a medical crisis and has high veterinary bills?
  • Do you have someone who can be a secondary caregiver if you are away from home? If not, how will you provide care for your pet when you travel? This is another huge difference between cats and dogs. You can have your dog stay with friends or family, but a cat is strongly bonded to its territory (your home), so you will have to find someone to come to your home to feed the cat, play with the cat, and just hang out for an hour or so every day.
  • Make a list of things you don’t want in a pet. Remember to write down your reasoning.

Then compare notes, have a discussion about whose responsibility it will be to do certain tasks (or if you will alternate) like walking the animal, cleaning up the poop, feeding, playing, etc. When you have an idea of what kind of pet you want, go to the animal shelter and meet dogs and cats. Ask lots of questions about anything that comes to mind.

If you aren’t seeing eye-to-eye about which pet you would prefer, then try fostering a cat or dog for a few months, then fostering the other kind for a few months. This can be a great way to figure out if an animal will really fit into your family.

Also, why rule out the possibility of adopting one of each? There are plenty of cats who like dogs and dogs who like cats waiting for a loving home. Closing your mind to possibilities before you’ve even met prospective pets seems like a bad idea to me.

Each cat and dog has its own personality, just like people. Some of those personalities will not mesh well with you and/or your husband. So also keep in mind that just because one specific animal isn’t a good fit for your family, that doesn’t mean that all members of its species will be the same.

Good Luck! Let us know how it goes.