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Dog or cat? How to choose the right pet for you

The UK is a nation of pet lovers. And for good reason. As well as the unconditional love, affection and friendship that pets provide, there are also therapeutic benefits associated with owning a pet, such as improved  general health and wellbeing. Generally speaking, pet owners have lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure and are less likely to suffer from stress, depression and anxiety.  A study by the US Department of Health showed that owning a pet significantly improved chances of surviving a heart attack; similarly a UK study discovered that those who own a pet deal with stress and loss better than those who don’t. The most popular larger mammalian pets are cats and dogs; when it comes to choosing between them, we are divided roughly equally  with an estimated  20% of UK households owning cats and 21% owning dogs.  

Factors to consider

Many people already have a sense of whether they are a ‘cat person’ or a ‘dog person’, although these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some people have grown up with certain animals and so are most comfortable with them, or just  ‘connect’ better with them.  If you’re a prospective pet owner, there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding between the two.  Cats and dogs have different needs and characteristics, and whether a cat or a dog is right for you is often determined by your lifestyle  as much as personal preference.  This decision can be made even harder by the sheer variety of breeds available: owning a Chihuahua, for example, is a very different experience from owning a Great Dane. Browse our Dog Breed Library or Cat Breed Library for more information on the different breeds of  cats and dogs. Alternatively, why not consider a crossbreed or mixed breed of dog, or a moggy (crossbred) cat from a rescue shelter?

Telltale signs that dogs are for you

If you are energetic and enjoy being outdoors and keeping active, a dog may be the right choice for you. Dogs need stimulation, fresh air and regular walks, so are best suited to people who have a garden and live in rural areas, or have easy access to parks and open spaces. Dogs can be taken on trips and outings and often enjoy travelling. Unlike cats, they are not naturally solitary animals and shouldn’t be left alone all day, so if you work long hours or have a demanding job, you may not be able to give them the full attention they deserve. You will also need to be able to make time to train and groom them. However, if you have the time and the space, you will be rewarded with a pet who is empathetic, playful, protective and a faithful life-long companion.

Telltale signs that cats are for you

If you have limited space, a busy lifestyle or would like a pet that’s a bit more independent, you may be better suited to a cat instead of a dog. Cats are relatively quiet, independent and can be left alone to sleep and entertain themselves for most of the day if they are allowed outdoors. They don’t need walking, although they still thrive on social interaction and will love playing with you or being groomed, especially if they’re long-haired.

Cats don’t tend to need as much indoor space as dogs, especially if they have safe access to a garden. Even without outside access, cats can be perfectly content as long as they are fed an appropriate diet and have access to a litterbox, toys and scratching posts to encourage physical and mental activity. It is also very important that you interact with them frequently. This means that if you are going away you will need to find somebody to look after them.  Although they don’t tend to show the boundless energy that dogs do, cats often prove to be more self-sufficient and make loving, affectionate, relaxing and entertaining pets.

Still can’t decide?

Many people love cats and dogs equally and, under the right conditions, the two species can happily share the same household if you give both pets time to comfortably get to know each other when you introduce them. For further advice, see Introducing your dog to other pets or Introducing your cat to other pets. If a puppy and kitten are raised together, they will generally learn to live  with each other right away, and may even become the very best of friends.

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