Two animal species make up over 95% of the pet population in Ireland. Dogs claim the top spot, comprising around 65% of the patients visiting vet clinics, while cats are half as popular, making up around 32.5% of vet visits. The remaining 2.5% of vet patients are a mixture of small mammals (rabbits, rats, guinea pigs and more), reptiles, birds, and occasional oddities like spiders.
So dogs and cats are the creatures that have claimed the hearts, minds and wallets of the Irish human population. While dogs may “win” today on the pure number count, cats are increasing rapidly in popularity, with cat-only and “cat-friendly” vet clinics in Ireland’s main cities while dogs still have to make do with standard “every species welcome” clothes.
So what are the differences between these two popular species? What are the pros and cons of each as companions for humans in the twenty first century?
Most cats are cross-bred creatures, technically called Domestic Short Haired (DSH) or Domestic Long Haired (DLH). There are around fifty pedigree breeds of cat ( Maine Coon, Ragdolls, Siamese and Persian are popular examples) but all cats have a relatively similar appearance and size compared to their canine cousins. In contrast, there are over three hundred breeds of dog, and they vary dramatically in size and appearance (Chihuahua vs St Bernard?). So if you want to have a choice for a particular size and shape of animal, dogs win.
Dogs are pack animals, and they see humans as part of their family. They love human company, and they bond strongly with their owners. While cats do live in groups in the wild, their social relationships are more complex, and the term “independent loners” is more likely to apply. When a cat wants to be with you, you may find it difficult to brush them away, but if you want their company when they have other ideas, you’ll find yourself feeling lonely. If you want a guaranteed friend to rely on, dogs win again.
There’s a regular debate over the relative intelligence of dogs vs cats, with the most common conclusion being that each species is supremely intelligent at doing what their species has evolved to do. When it comes to carrying out behaviors on human commands, dogs do better than cats: they have been selected to carry out commands on human instruction, and they’re good at it. Cats are more independent creatures who might, or might not, do what they are asked to do. Dogs win again.
Dogs encourage humans to take them for walks, while cats are more likely to persuade us to stay in our armchairs: it can be difficult to shoosh a purring cat off your lap. So for encouraging us to exercise, dogs win again.
This is a tricky one: both species make us feel better. Walking a dog through woods and across fields is undeniably a winning antidote to the stress of modern life. But so is staying in that armchair, with your blood pressure dropping as you stroke that purring cat. Cats win this one for their calmness
Dogs are generally bigger than cats, so they need more food, and food is the number one cost in pet ownership. Dogs also need licenses (cats don’t) and they need more equipment than cats (collars, leashes, and more). Then there’s veterinary bills: both dogs and cats can fall ill, have accidents and need veterinary care. The key to judging which species has pricier medical care is to look at pet insurance premiums. Dogs are significantly more expensive than cats. So cats win this one: overall, they are less costly than dogs.
Dogs roll in muck, run through the house with wet paws, jump up on your clean clothes, and many shed fur wherever they lie. While it’s true that cats can be fur shedders too, they tend to keep themselves immaculately clean, and I have yet to meet a cat who rolls in fox poo. Cats win this one.
Dogs need to have their poops picked up while out on walks; cats do their own business, discreetly and out of sight (unless you have an indoor-only cat, in which case you need to cope with the challenge of regular litter-tray changes). Cats win this one.
Dogs love having human attention, and they need you to spend time with them, taking them for walks and engaging. Cats are happy to do their own thing: they may, or may not, look for your company. If you want a pet who is more independent, giving you more freedom to live your own life, cats are the winners.
Each species has their role. Dogs make wonderful burglar alarms, and can be good at deterring intruders. Some have specific roles in country pursuits, or carrying out specific tasks (such as Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs). Cats are less likely to do what we wish them to do, but they excel naturally at pest control. Overall, dogs win this by a whisker.
So based on this simple analysis, the score is Dogs 5, cats 5. Both species make equally good pets. You have a choice: do you want a friend who is always by your side and on your side? Or would you prefer a charmer who may leave you rather than love you, depending on their whim?
As the contented owner of both species, my advice is not to make the choice at all: have both dogs and cats in your life.