Cat or Dog: Which One Makes the Best Pet

(1/9/13)— by Charlotte Bass Lilly, as published in The Advocate, New Orleans

Dog vs Cat: an age-old question and has been battled out by strictly canine lovers and hissed at by the feline fanciers. The truth is, they both make great pets. The real question is: which one is the right pet for you?

First on the list, rule out allergies.
Lots of people are allergic to cats, and some people have allergic reactions to some dogs. There are ‘hypo-allergenic’ dogs that have hair (like us), and not fur and do not shed, or shed incrementally. Poodles, ShihTzus, Cockers, etc. are examples of pets who need to be ‘groomed’ and much less a problem to humans with allergies.

The undercoat on dogs that have ‘fur’ (that do not need grooming, but do shed) usually have at least two coats to their fur. The top coat contains guard hairs, coarser and longer than the undercoat, but does not insulate the pet like the flyaway undercoat that sheds with the seasons. The undercoat is lost during the warmer months, but unfortunately not all at once, needing regular brushing or combing. Anyone who has a Northern breed dog, i.e. Malamute, Husky, German Shepherd, etc. knows that you can practically knit a half dozen sweaters if you saved all the undercoat these dogs molt each year.

As far as hypo-allergenic cats the Cornish Rex would qualify being hairless, except for down. Most breeds of cats have three different types of fur in their coats. The outer fur or guard hairs, a middle layer called the awn hair, and the down hair undercoat, which is very fine and only 1 cm long. Cornish Rexes only have the down undercoat. The Sphinx cat is totally hairless.

Next consideration is time availability.
If you are away from home for long hours (over 8), and there is no one else at home, consider a feline companion. With a proper setup in their environment, cats are very happy to be left alone, but always happier if another pet is there to keep them company. You will have to relegate yourself to cleaning a litter box (scooping at least once a day), some hair to vacuum up, and regular brushing (or you will be met with a hair-ball or two puked up in warmer months). Provide cats with a window that they can see outside, as they will spend hours nattering at birds. Some cats are very loving and cuddly, insisting on sleeping with their human. Others are more aloof (catitude) and remain rather independent but are always glad for attention. All cats enjoy enrichment of waving a feather in the air, dragging a string, or using a laser light for them to chase nowhere! Friendliness depends on socialization, so not handling your cat will result in them becoming more aloof. Kittens get into everything, just like puppies… so if you don’t want drapes climbed on or inside plants dug up, adopt an adult or juvenile cat. Most shelters will allow you to foster-to-adopt so you can test out if this is the particular cat for you.

Dogs enjoy human company, preferring another canine for company (or even a cat), to keep them company. There are dogs who do prefer to be the only pet as well. Dogs are recommended for those who can maybe come home at lunch to walk their dog, or have other members of the household who are on a different schedule, and come in and out of the house on a regular basis. Dogs should never be left outside while you are away from home. Only allow your dog in your yard when you can accompany them outside. Today there are doggie day care centers available everywhere if you do have to be away from home for a long period. Boarding is usually available at the day care, if your job takes you out of town a few days a week.

Whether you choose a dog or cat, make sure you allow enough time (days!) when you first bring them home so they can bond with you, and you with them. The more time you spend with your pet the more intelligent they will become. Don’t hesitate to ‘talk’ to them. They learn our sounds and associate the sounds with what you want them to do. Also be ready for them to adjust to your schedule. If you are gone all day they will spend most of the time sleeping. Once you get home they will want to play and get some pets and cuddling.

If you desire a specific breed, please check with area shelters first. Also research the breed you think you want to make sure their breed personalities match yours. (Mixed pets have recessive genes bred out of them, so less likely to get certain conditions peculiar to some purebreds.) Even declawed cats are available at area shelters. (Never declaw a cat, as it removes part of the bone and considered a cruel cosmetic unnecessary surgery.) With claws, even a small water gun works great for stopping furniture scratching if your cat does that. Or invest in a cat tree and you will have no furniture touched.

Purebred cats and dogs come into shelters regularly, not necessarily because they have problems, but because too many people consider them disposable commodities. They are not.

Be ready to make your pet(s) a part of your family or to be your family, as the case may be.

Charlotte Bass Lilly is CEO of Animal Rescue New Orleans, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. ARNO operates a volunteer-based, no-kill shelter in the Elmwood Industrial section of Jefferson Parish and depends upon the generosity of people from all over the country who have followed since Katrina. DONATE to them and help us continue!