The truth about cats and dogs


“Dogs have owners, cats have staff. It’s one of countless aphorisms describing the perceived differences between two of the world’s most popular pets – and the people who love them.

The oppositional nature of this relationship has enormous cultural resonance. This is the premise of comics and movies. It is making its way into dating profiles. And it is the subject of both jokes and serious denigration, mainly directed against the feline contingent: if it is not rare to hear that we should not trust people who do not like cats, women who own more than one cat are “crazy cat ladies”.

More than a third of American households own dogs and about a quarter of cats, according to the American Association of Veterinarians, suggesting that dogs have the advantage in terms of popularity in the real world. (Paradoxically, cats are the algorithmic scrunchies of the day.) Most other polls reveal that dogs are also the preferred pet, although it should be noted that the percentages vary considerably. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for example, suggests that while more households own dogs than cats, there are about eight million more cats in the United States And, of course, many households include both species.

A wide variety of studies, using a range of different methodologies, have attempted to elucidate the reasons why people prefer one species over another. Some support common stereotypes – dog owners are extroverts and cat owners are introverts, for example – and others challenge them.


Samuel Gosling, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and senior author of a 2010 paper on the subject, observes that most research has not used well-established means of collecting psychological data. Samples are also often very selective, taken during visits to the veterinarian or explicitly requested from animal lovers. Yet his research offers tantalizing information about the truth of these two allegedly antithetical types.

Gosling’s study used the Big Five personality model, which isolates five major dimensions of the personality: pleasantness, awareness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness. It was also one of the few studies that gave respondents the option of choosing both dogs and cats or none. The results found some validity in our instinctive perceptions about the types of people attracted to each species.

“People probably expect to find dogs to be more outgoing,” says Gosling. “We certainly supported this preconceived idea.” They were also more pleasant and conscientious while the cats were more neurotic and open. Those who liked both or neither got a score similar to that of the dogs.

Another study, published in 2015, found that dog owners scored higher on traits related to dominance than cat owners, suggesting that canine obedience was complementary to their personality. Cat owners, on the other hand, were less dominant and apparently less bothered by the independent nature of their chosen companions. However, a previous study found no variation in dominance between the two groups.

A more recent survey, published in the Human-animal interaction bulletin in 2017, used the largest Personality Factor Sixteen Questionnaire (16PF). This suggested that the dogs were warmer and livelier, more rule aware, and more socially daring. Cats, on the other hand, were abstract thinkers, smarter and more autonomous.

Perception and attraction

The variation in these characteristics between the sexes has also been the subject of much research. a early investigation in the case from 1980 indicated that male cat lovers were more autonomous and male dog lovers ranked higher in dominance and aggression; Female cat lovers were weaker in dominance while females in both groups were less aggressive.

A study in which American students evaluated video interactions, found that men were described as more masculine when identified as dogs and more feminine when identified as cats. Although dog owners ranked higher on masculinity in another study, they showed no difference in how they rated themselves on femininity.

There is some evidence that these perceptions have consequences in the dating world. An exam found that women viewing dating profiles featuring men holding cats saw them as less masculine and therefore less datable than those who were not. Research on how masculinity and dominance affect the attraction of women to men was inconsistent, but it appears that both may be factors in at least some populations.

There could of course be other factors at play. According to the results of the 16PF study, the personality characteristics of cat owners match those of creative people, often seen as less conventional. They are also, according to Gosling’s survey, more open. Gosling speculates that it may be related to the fact that dogs are slightly more conventional than cats. They have certainly been associated with humans for a longer time – at least 14,000 years old by some estimates. By extension, this could make those who prefer dogs over cats attractive to a wider range of potential mates.

Read more: Dogs co-evolved with humans like no other species

Way of life

Canine and feline preferences have also been linked to a variety of health outcomes – mental, physical, and even social. Owning a particular dog appears to have a strong correlation with physical improvement and Mental Health, in part because of the need to regular dog walks.

In addition to serving as a source of exercise, dog walking also facilitates social interaction. People with dogs are considered more accessible and have always been shown to more frequent and longer interactions with strangers. Analysis about 160,000 Facebook users in the United States found that cats, on the other hand, were slightly more likely to be single and have fewer friends (sorry, cat lovers).

The health effects appear to be particularly acute in aging populations. A Norwegian survey of men and women over 65 found that female cat owners consistently reported poorer health than any other group. in the same way, German women over 40 who owned cats were found to have lower self-esteem, while German men of the same age cohort who owned dogs had higher self-esteem.

A survey of Japanese seniors determined that dog ownership was positively correlated with increased motor activity and social function. The effect has a long tail – older Japanese men who owned dogs early in life were also found to have better social support in their old age. Unexpectedly, owning a cat also appeared to improve social function in this population.

Emotional connection

Dogs and cats also seem to have different attachment styles, which form emotional bonds. This is hardly unexpected given the discovery that dogs and cats themselves display different types of attachment to their people.

It has been found that dogs constantly train secure attachments to humans at rates similar to those found in human children, meaning they trust their owners and welcome them back home. They also seek proximity to their people more frequently. Cats vary more at the individual level, with some studies showing levels of secure attachment similar to that of dogs and others find little evidence that cats form secure attachments to their owners.

These tendencies are more or less reciprocal. Dog owners display higher levels of attachment to their pets than cat owners, according to some research. They are also more likely to attribute theory of mind – understanding mental states – to their pets and overestimating their cognitive abilities. Humans are also better able to read canine facial expressions that feline those. Some studies indicate that dogs are more likely be seen as family, although others find no difference.

Ultimately, while the literature on cats and dogs offers fascinating glimpses into human and animal nature, it probably should be taken with a grain of salt. The results are riddled with contradictions and often ignore mitigating factors. And for the most part, they pay little attention to the fact that many of us love both species equally – or don’t care about animals at all.


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