“Man’s best friend” or “Crazy cat lady”? Canine enthusiast or feline fancy? The friendly competition of cats vs. dogs has long been argued by cat and dog lovers alike, debating whether cats or dogs make for the best companions.
This question has become particularly important as the number of seniors—age 65 and older—has greatly increased in North America, many of which live alone. Could a cat or a dog help decrease feelings of loneliness, isolation, and other health concerns of older adults? Which animal would be the better companion?
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Science Attempts to Find an Answer
Recently, a group of scientists in Germany set out to find the answer. Their study consisted of 1,160 individuals 65 years or older, separated into three groups: those who lived entirely alone, those who lived alone with dogs, and those who lived alone with cats. Researchers asked each group to report on their overall feelings of loneliness and isolation. They found that dogs helped to alleviate these feelings for women much more than they did for men.
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In other words, dogs seem to help women feel less loneliness much more than they do men, so maybe we need to start referring to dogs as “Woman’s best friend” instead of “Man’s best friend.”
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However, in another recent study researchers found that older people living alone with cats reported much lower levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those living alone with dogs, while there was no significant difference in loneliness between dog lovers and cat lovers.
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The Debate Continues
So, what makes the difference? Does a cat or a dog make a better companion for us in our older years?
On one hand, a dog makes a lot of sense. Dogs are energetic and playful. They are loyal and attentive. They constantly want to interact and engage with their humans, and for older adults who struggle keeping up with physical activity, a dog’s need for daily walks can be a great motivator.
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Not only does walking a dog help us exercise, which by itself has a number of health benefits, but it can also be a great opportunity to see and socialize with neighbors and other walkers. Dogs can also be trained to assist with daily needs, such as retrieving needed items, opening and closing doors, and providing guidance and support when walking.
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On the other hand, there are many benefits for older adults who share their home with cats. While caring for a cat still requires some physical activity—providing food and water, cleaning litter boxes, and play—these activities can help older adults get moving without the physical demands that a dog requires, as well as provide mental stimulation and a sense of purpose. Compared to dogs, many cats are happy sleeping much of the day and are content curling up next to their human on the couch.
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With a cat fishing pole or a laser, a cat can also be easily entertained from the comfort of the couch. And for those who want a little more physical activity, you can also train your cat to walk on a leash with a harness—which would certainly get people to stop and strike up a conversation about your feline companion!
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The Conclusion: It’s up to You
So, do cats or dogs make better companions for seniors? That’s up to you to decide, because whether you share your older years with a cat or a dog, ultimately having a relationship with either furry friend can be a positive thing for you.
Tell us what you think. This isn’t really a question of which is better. It’s a personal choice that we all make, but we’re sure you have an opinion why you prefer one over the other, so tell us in the comments!
H/T: Psychology Today