Which Pets Make Us Happiest: Dogs or Cats?

Perhaps you’ve heard that old talking point about pet owners living longer than those silly non-pet owners. Okay, so it’s not just a talking point. The science adds up. Health benefits include lower stress, reduced chance of depression, a lower risk of heart disease, and even those that can’t be quantified, such as providing people with a shared sense of community or comfort. Sure, a lot of that is because we tend to get more exercise when we have pets — especially dog owners.

That might be why dog owners seem to be happier than cat owners.

A General Social Survey found that nearly 60 percent of American households owned a pet in 2018. No surprise there. But what you might find surprising is that 36 percent of respondents who owned a dog declared themselves “very happy.” As opposed to 32 percent of respondents that define themselves as very happy — with no pets at all.

Turns out that while having a dog might make you feel happier, it doesn’t appear to make that much of a difference. That’s surprise number one. But the bigger surprise is that people were actually less happy with a dog and cat combo — 28 percent — or only a cat; 18 percent. Owning a cat is worse than having no pets at all! And owning both a cat and dog could also make you noticeably less happy than those who don’t have a pet!

Admittedly, more research needs to be done before a solid foundation of fact can exist. That’s just the way science works. Hypothesis doesn’t become fact until the results have been replicated with different experimenters. But still, there’s reason to consider opting for only a dog over a cat and dog or just a cat.

But there are probably other reasons that provide a direct link, rather than just what kind of pet you might own. For example, the same survey discovered a link to being married and owning a dog — i.e. you’re way more likely to own a mutt once you’ve tied the knot and had a couple of kids. Cat owners, on the other hand, are more likely to be single and live alone (probably not what cat owners wanted to hear, but it’s the truth).

What does this say about pets and overall happiness?

First, social relationships remain important — they’re the foundation of living long, healthy lives. Once you’ve found the right man or woman for you, then it could be beneficial to hunker down, have kids, or adopt a dog. On top of that, start getting outside for more exercise! All of these are the keys to staying happy and healthy.