Are cats better than dogs? Let’s start off this somewhat scientific review of some unscientific questions with a quick disclaimer: Before I dove in the pool of luxury that is the life of a freelance writer (obviously specializing in satire) I spent about 10 years as a shelter manager and career animal advocate. Thousands of animals have passed through my care and of these, quite a few became family–both dogs and cats. This said, I undertake this inquiry into the science of species superiority from the perspective of a general “animal person” even though I (and all four of my cats would agree) would choose “cat person” if I were forced to make an official designation–cats are simply a better overall fit for my personality, lifestyle, and living situation.
This is a simple question about a complicated topic. For one, whether cats or dogs are “better” is an apple and orange comparison–they are very different animals. Which makes the better pet is less about the science of awesomeness than it is about you and who is the best fit for your wants and needs.
Such preferences have been the focus of many studies. For instance, as reported in Psychology Today, researchers at the University of Florida took a deep dive into the psychology of cat lovers vs. dog lovers by removing people who liked both dogs and cats from their sample, isolating personality characteristics of people who prefer only one or the other. They found the average cat person to possess personality traits of “shy, solitary, impersonal, serious, and nonconformist, but also creative, sentimental, independent, and self-sufficient.” Dog people, the researchers found, had converse personality traits of “grounded, pragmatic, and dutiful, as well as warm, outgoing, sociable, expressive, and group oriented.”
Let’s take a look at the five senses and see what the experts have to say:
Dog Cats or Dogs Have Better Hearing?
Cats and dogs both hear better than humans but as the folks at Locust Valley Veterinary Clinic in Locust Valley, New York, point out, “cats can hear almost one octave higher than dogs.” They also note while dogs, depending on breed, have around 18 muscles controlling ear movement (which funnels sound) cats have nearly twice as many ear muscles. This allows cats to move each ear independently–making for superior hearing, if not listening, skills.
Dog Cats or Dogs Have a Better Sense of Smell?
We all know dogs have an amazing sense of smell but…sorry, dogs–cats are better! The pet food makers at Canidae have, of course, special insight into what smells, and of course tastes, good to dogs and cats. They note that “cats have an even better sense of smell and can identify differences between a larger variety of scents.” How is this even possible, you ask? Turns out mammals possess three kinds of scent receptors. One of these, called the V1R protein, makes for the ability to make distinctions between different scents. Us humans have two forms of this protein, dogs have nine, cats, of course, have 30. While some dogs, such as Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherd Dogs, have more scent receptors than cats, these specific breeds may smell “better” than cats but they can’t smell as much.
Dog Cats or Dogs Have a Better Sense of Taste?
Since smell and taste go together like queso and chips, we look again to Canidae to discover that “dogs have about 1,700 taste buds and our feline friends have around 470.” While omnivorous dogs (and humans) can detect five different “flavors” of things–sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory/meaty–cats can only taste four. Being obligate carnivores, they lost the ability to taste sweet things as they evolved because it just wasn’t necessary. While many cat lovers would point out just how smart of cats this was, this one goes to the dogs.
Dog Cats or Dogs Have Better Eyesight?
The people doctors at Eye Consultants of Atlanta did a little comparison of eyesight between humans, cats, and dogs and found that dogs have wider fields of vision than cats–240 degrees for dogs to 200 degrees for cats. Dogs can see farther away than cats but cats have better near-vision than dogs. The special shape of cat corneas also helps them see well at night–about twice as well as dogs in low light. In terms of color, both cats and dogs don’t see the range of colors we do, but they don’t need to. They specialize in movement to define things, not color– but either way, dogs can see more colors than cats.
Dog Cats or Dogs Have a Better Sense of Touch?
They rounded this one up over at Canidae and found that dogs and cats are pretty much tied here. “Both have super sensitive whiskers that help them detect the slightest change in air currents and pressure to navigate in their environment as well as to detect prey, predators and obstructions in the dark.” In addition, both cats and dogs use their paw pads to help regulate body temperature, which is pretty nifty.
Here’s a place where science fails us as there’s just not a lot of information out there. It’s understandable being that you can’t really measure things like memories in someone who can’t tell you about them. But any of us who have spent time with dogs and cats know that they form both long and short-term memories–whether it’s remembering where a treat was buried or associating a person or place with a bad experience. PetMD details some interesting facts about memory in dogs and cats that helps explain what (little) we know but overall, it’s more of a guessing game.
Life expectancy in dogs has a lot to do with their breeds but overall, cats win this one. Science Magazine notes that “cats live an average of 15 years, compared with about 12 years for dogs.” The solitary nature of cats tends to keep them safe from infectious diseases not to mention the life-saving weaponry they come equipped with. Cats also haven’t had as much human intervention in terms of genetics as dogs have–breeding over generations to develop certain characteristics we humans find desirable. Many times, breeding leads to health problems–think breathing issues in Bulldogs, hip dysplasia in German Shepherd Dogs, and cancer in Boxers–whereas most cats have evolved naturally, keeping the traits that work best for them and shedding those that don’t.
Though this is probably the last thing on your mind, especially if you have already self-identified as a dog person or cat person, it is an interesting question–especially seeing as cats tend to live longer. We’ve taken a deep dive into the cost of owning a dog versus the cost of owning a cat and it looks like cats are actually more budget-friendly. Cat’s don’t require all the accoutrements of dogs and because many are indoors-only they tend to require less vet care.
Granted, the questions explored here come from the “oft-asked” grab bag versus a truly scientific line of inquiry but for our purposes, the research is clear–science has spoken and science says cats RULE. The great thing about science, though, is it can always be disproved. Perhaps someday dogs will get their day.
- The True Cost of Getting a Dog
- How Do Cats Purr? The Secret Superpower That Fuels Your Cat’s Purring
- Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats: What To Know Before Deciding