The Tail Wag That Brings the Most Joy. Do Dogs Make Us Happier Than Cats?


There’s no doubt that both cats and dogs make wonderful pets and companions for humans. However, when considering the health benefits and overall positive impact of pets on their owners, evidence suggests that dogs provide the greatest benefits. Multiple studies have indicated that dogs, more than cats, boost human moods and motivation, foster social connections, relieve stress and anxiety, and offer a sense of purpose. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why dogs make better companions for most humans, especially related to mood, physical health, relationships, and responsibilities.

Dogs Improve Mood More

Multiple studies have shown that dogs can significantly improve people’s moods and relieve feelings of anxiety and depression more than cats. One study from Washington State University found that students experienced a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol after interacting with dogs and cats. However, the reduction was much greater for students that spent time with dogs (1).

Another study published in Anthrozoös explored whether cats or dogs provided better emotional support for highly emotional people. The results showed that cats were linked to higher mood, lower anxiety, and less negative emotion in highly emotional people compared to dogs. This suggests that cats may be better at relieving stress for those prone to high emotion and anxiety (2).

However, most other studies indicate that dogs have more powerful effects on relieving acute stress and anxiety. One reason is that dogs motivate their owners to go outside, exercise, and engage in more social connections, all of which can improve mood. Dogs also form stronger social bonds and are more likely to engage in positive physical touch with their owners in the form of petting, hugging, etc. This kind of affectionate touch releases oxytocin which reduces cortisol levels (3).

Dogs Motivate More Exercise

Dog owners tend to walk more steps per day on average than those without dogs. According to a study published in Nature, dog owners walked an average of 300 more steps per day compared to non-dog owners ( Another study in Preventive Medicine found that dog walkers were 54% more likely to meet recommended levels of physical activity (

Dogs motivate people to exercise through their need for walks and playtime. As pack animals, dogs enjoy and benefit from frequent walks and exercise with their human companions. To keep their dogs happy and healthy, owners are compelled to take them on walks multiple times per day. The New York Times reported that dog owners are about 4 times as likely to meet physical activity guidelines, largely due to dogs’ needs for outdoor walks and activity (

Dogs Build Stronger Bonds

Research shows that dogs tend to build stronger bonds with their human owners compared to cats. One reason is that dogs are perceived as more affectionate, loyal, and eager to please their owners. A study from Oregon State University found that while cats do form attachments to their owners, the strength of that bond is not as strong as the attachment dogs form with humans.

This is likely due to the fact that dogs have been domesticated and bred selectively over thousands of years to be human companions. As a result, dogs are more attentive, engaged, and demonstrably affectionate with their owners. They are more likely to respond enthusiastically to their owner’s return, seek out eye contact, and want to play or interact. Cats tend to be more aloof and independent.

The loyalty and devotion dogs show their human owners results in stronger emotional bonds. There is also evidence that interacting with dogs can release more of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin in owners. The special connection between dogs and their owners may explain why dogs provide more measurable benefits in terms of improving mood and reducing stress.

Dogs Aid Social Connections

Research shows that owning a dog can help people expand their social circles and connect with others more easily. Dog owners are more likely to engage in conversations with strangers, meet neighbors, and make new friends (Koohsari et al., 2021). There are several reasons dogs facilitate social connections:

Dog parks provide a natural gathering place for dog owners to mingle while their pets play. Chatting with fellow dog lovers in a relaxed, outdoor setting makes it easier to strike up new acquaintances. According to one study, people who frequented dog parks had more non-family social ties than non-park users (Wood et al., 2015).

Walking a dog also presents opportunities to interact with others. Dog walkers often see the same people routinely and start recognizing each other. Brief sidewalk chats can gradually build familiarity and trust over time. For singles and seniors especially, dog walking routes deliver valuable daily social contact.

Caring for a dog necessitates trips to pet stores, vet visits, training classes, groomers, and other dog-centric places. The shared affinity for dogs brings people together at these locations. Conversations flow naturally when centered around a common interest.

In essence, dogs function as social catalysts and icebreakers between strangers. Their playful presence helps dissolve social barriers that might otherwise discourage interaction. For those lacking companionship or seeking to expand their social networks, dog ownership provides a conduit.

Dogs Teach Responsibility

One of the key benefits of having a dog is that caring for them builds important life skills and qualities like responsibility, patience, and empathy. Dogs are dependent on their owners to provide everything they need, including food, water, exercise, potty breaks, grooming, training, veterinary care and more. Meeting a dog’s daily needs requires following a consistent schedule and making the dog a priority. This teaches young children especially the meaning of duty, obligation, and reliability.

Additionally, dogs do not always behave perfectly. Accidents, chewing, barking, and other “misbehavior” are part of raising a puppy. Dealing with these challenges in a calm and consistent manner helps children build patience and understanding. Over time, children learn to interpret dog body language and cues, allowing them to empathize with the dog’s needs.

Studies show children with pet dogs score higher on responsibility, empathy, and self-esteem measures. The daily duties and hands-on interactions of dog ownership build life skills and nurture compassion in kids (1).


Counterpoint: Benefits of Cats

While dogs tend to provide more health and social benefits, cats have their own advantages as pets. Here are some of the key benefits of having a cat:

Independence – Cats are very self-sufficient and don’t require constant supervision or entertainment from their owners. They are content amusing themselves and don’t need walks or significant playtime. This makes cats a good option for busy owners or those who travel often. Effects of the characteristic temperament of cats on

Cleanliness – Cats naturally have good bathroom habits and will use a litter box with little or no training. Their grooming habits keep their fur clean and reduces pet odors in the home. This cleanliness makes them well-suited to small living spaces. Is Owning a Cat Good for Your Health?

Less demanding – While dogs crave constant human interaction and attention, most cats are fine being left alone for long periods. Cats sleep over 15 hours a day on average and are low maintenance pets compared to dogs. This light time commitment benefits busy owners. The Science-Backed Benefits of Being a Cat Lover

Rebuttal to Cat Benefits

While cats certainly have appealing qualities as pets, dogs provide a level of companionship and connection that cats simply cannot match. Dogs forge incredibly strong bonds with their owners that lead to measurable mental and physical health benefits according to research. One study found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, hormones that promote happiness and wellbeing (

Unlike cats which tend to be more independent, dogs crave interaction and playtime with their owners. This motivates people to engage in more physical activity and fight depression. Dogs also understand hundreds of verbal commands allowing more communication with their owners. Simply put, dogs aim to please their owners while cats have a more detached relationship.

For individuals seeking an affectionate, loyal, and interactive pet companion that feels like part of the family, dogs deliver companionship that cats cannot rival. While cats have their perks, dogs form a special bond with humans that enhances health, mood, and quality of life.

Advice on Choosing

When deciding between getting a dog or cat, it’s important to consider your individual lifestyle and needs.

Dogs require more time, attention, exercise and training than cats. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, dogs need to be walked several times per day and prefer lots of playtime and interaction. Cats are generally lower maintenance and can be left alone for longer periods of time. So if you are very busy or travel often, a cat may be a better choice.

Cats can also be ideal for smaller living spaces, since they don’t require as much room to play and exercise. According to Purina, dogs need access to a yard or going on regular walks. If you live in an apartment, a cat that is content staying indoors may work better.

Your personality can also determine if a dog or cat is right for you. WikiHow suggests dogs are very affectionate and crave constant human companionship. So they appeal to social people looking for interactive pets. Cats tend to be more independent. They can show affection but don’t require as much attention. So cats may suit introverted personalities better.

Consider any allergies family members may have as well. While there are some hypoallergenic breeds, dogs tend to aggravate allergies more than cats for sensitive individuals.

Take your time researching both options. Make sure you select a pet that fits your home, schedule and personality for the happiest match.


In conclusion, while both dogs and cats have benefits as pets, the evidence suggests that dogs make humans happier overall. Dogs motivate their owners to exercise more, which improves physical and mental health. The strong bonds dogs form with humans provide companionship and reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Dogs also connect people by being a social catalyst that sparks conversations and new relationships. Though cats can also be loving companions, dogs are more likely to get their owners outdoors, interacting with others, and feeling a sense of purpose in caring for their pet. Ultimately, choosing the right pet depends on your lifestyle, living situation, and personality. But if your goal is to add happiness, dogs seem more likely to deliver.

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