Cats vs. Dogs: Who Really Is Man’s Best Friend?

Discover why cats can be as good a companion as dogs can as we separate the truth from the stereotypes.

Mar 21, 2023By Donna Hobson
cats dogs who is mans best friend

There are two types of people in life: cat people and dog people, but if popular culture is to be believed, dogs are our best friends, while cats remain indifferent to their human companions. Keep reading to discover why this is not the case.

There’s no denying that dogs are loving, faithful companions to humans; they shower us with affection and do anything they can to please us. But it might surprise you to learn that cats can also form a parent-child-like connection and feel the same love toward us as a dog might. Here’s why dogs are not our only best friends.

Cats Vs. Dogs: Love and Affection

cat being affectionate toward dog
Credit: Image by María Fernanda Pérez on Pixabay

Companionship can bring several mental and physical health effects, whether the relationship is with another human or a pet. Cats, dogs, and many other pets can help reduce anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression. In addition, they encourage us to exercise and be playful, which can improve our cardiovascular health. But do our pets see us as their companions, and do they feel the same love for us as we do for them?

Dogs have been known as “man’s best friend” for centuries, so the research and anecdotal evidence into this bond is vast. For example, neurologist Dr. Paul Zak researched the release of oxytocin during human-dog interactions. By taking saliva samples before and after interactive sessions with their owners, Dr. Zak determined that a dog’s oxytocin levels rose by around 57.2% during this recreation time.

To put that into perspective, our own oxytocin levels rise by around 60% when we interact with people we love (such as our partners or children) - the fact that dogs experience such a significant rise in the hormone demonstrates their affection for us.

The same study showed that oxytocin levels in a cat’s brain only rose by 12% following interactions with their owners. But this might not paint an accurate picture; research conducted in 2019 suggests that we may have underestimated the attachment our felines form with us.

This is one of several studies by animal scientist Kristyn Vitale demonstrating that cats are not as aloof as their reputation suggests. The research involved owners sitting in a room with their cat or kitten. The owner’s sat in a marked circle and could interact with their cat anytime the felines entered this circle.

By observing these interactions, scientists determined that roughly 64.3% of these cats showed a secure attachment style, similar to infant humans (65%). Interestingly, this rate was also higher than published research into dog attachment, which demonstrated a 61% securely attached rate, with 39% insecurely attached.

There’s no doubt that dogs love their owners, but recent scientific studies suggest that we may have underestimated the love our cats feel for us; they just have different ways of showing it.

Cats Vs. Dogs: Cohabitation

dog cuddling cat
Credit: Image by JackieLou DL on Pixabay

Part of being a “best friend” is making your life easier, right? So how does living with a cat stack up against living with a dog?

Every pet is different and comes with its own personality and needs, but in general, you’ll find that living with a cat is easier than living with a dog, and here’s why:

You may love your dog’s enthusiasm for life, but it can come at a cost. Cats demonstrate a greater restraint if you turn your back on a plate of food for a minute or when the postman pushes mail through your letterbox. Think about it; when have you heard the excuse that the cat ate my homework?

Cats - particularly kittens - can be prone to scratching carpets and furniture, but it’s easy to redirect their energy with scratching poles and climbing towers. It can be harder to stop dogs from chewing items around your home, and puppies, in particular, cannot be left unsupervised for long periods.

In addition, cats take care of their own hygiene and come fully equipped with a barbed tongue to remove dirt and debris from their fur. You won’t need to clean or bathe your cat, and they’re unlikely to smell. Meanwhile, dogs groom themselves through similar licking behaviors but are not as thorough as cats and will still rely on you to bathe and groom them. In addition, dogs carry a more pungent smell which can transfer to your home and clothes if you don’t maintain a good cleaning regime.

And when it comes to independence, cats are the clear winners. You don’t have to dedicate time to walks and playing daily as they will happily entertain themselves. That being said, don’t underestimate a cat’s need for enrichment. They love vertical climbing spaces such as cat towers and a selection of toys you can rotate so they won’t get bored.

Cats Vs. Dogs: Communication

puppy and kitten
Credit: Image by JackieLou DL on Pixabay

It’s lovely that dogs want to spend time interacting with their humans, but it’s also a big commitment. Cats offer more balance to your lifestyle with a mix of independent play and bonding time. A published comment by Alyssa Lare summarises one of the biggest misconceptions about cats. She says, “Dogs you can play with and take outside and everything, whereas cats just like to sleep all day.”

But, as many cat parents will testify, felines are just as happy to play games with their owners. They will love to chase stick toys and flying objects, and some cats will play fetch with you too. Dogs are high-energy pets requiring a significant investment of time and attention. Cats are more independent (and sometimes aloof), but they will happily play games and spend time bonding with you.

Research suggests that dogs can understand their humans and learn up to 250 words. These friendly companions love to please their humans, so they try to understand us by listening to our words and observing our body language and emotional responses.

We know that cats can understand us, too; try saying “food” or “treat” to your feline, and they’ll quickly come running. There is also evidence to suggest that cats can tune in to our emotions and body language (just like dogs) - the main difference is that they are less interested in acting on these cues.

Cats Vs. Dogs: Who Really Is a Man’s Best Friend?

dog vs cat faceoff
Credit: Image by Gisela Merkuur on Pixabay

Dogs have been man’s best friend for millennia, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. These four-legged companions adore spending time with humans and try to please us by observing our behavior and responding to commands. Dogs can be easier to train, more likely to express affection, and aren’t afraid to show their love.

Still, we should not underestimate the relationships that humans can build with cats. There’s no doubt that these enigmatic creatures are far more aloof than dogs and will not shower you with affection in quite the same way. But they are ideal companions for people who don’t want the responsibility of owning a dog. In addition, cats can form just as strong a bond with their humans as dogs can, and many will respond to their owners as if they were a parent.

Cats and dogs can both be the best friends to human beings, and whichever one you welcome into your home is sure to be a source of endless love and joy.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.