Differences Between Cats and Dogs

Really, what is the difference between cats and dogs? Why are cats often content being left alone for hours on end, whereas dogs are constantly craving your attention? Here is a helpful guide for understanding the differences between your two pets.

Behavior

It’s important, when initially attempting to understand your pets, to consider their natural environment. Your cat is accustomed to playing the solitary hunter, stalking prey, often alone, without the aid of a pack or pride to watch her back. Your cat’s relationship with her environment, then, will naturally be far more developed than any need for a relationship with other cats or creatures, making the feline the more self-sufficient of your house pets.

Your dog, on the other hand, is a pack animal, accustomed to life in the wild as being a part of a larger group. This means your dog will much more easily adapt to changes in his environment, so long as his pack, those whom he is most comfortable with, are tagging along as well. Your dog’s innate pack mentality means is he is easier to train than your cat, because he craves the attention of the pack – particularly, the pack leader.

For any more specific information on your dog or cat’s behavior, take a look at our behavior page.

Physicality

Your cat, being the solitary stalker of prey, will naturally be built differently than your dog, the pack-oriented hunter. Cats, because of their instinctual desire to stalk quietly, pouncing once close, tend to be built more lithely, with lean muscles meant for leaping and snatching at a surprised foe. Their build, then, is built for stealth and agility, sacrificing the brute force and athletic endurance of your other household hunter.

Your dog, on the other hand, has a build far less concerned with stealth and agility. In the wild, your dog would have relied on his ability to outrun his prey over long periods of time, rather than the sneaking surprise of your cat, to catch his next meal. Generation after generation of this method of hunting has made your dog into the apex endurance predator, capable of running down prey of all sizes in the wild.

Diet

Your pets’ histories have also affected their diets. Your cat, for instance, is a strict carnivore, without exception. Fatty meats were any cat’s primary method of survival in the wild, and, over centuries, they have come to rely on the high protein of a meat-packed meal to keep at peak performance. Cats also have to eat more frequently than their canine counterparts, though in smaller quantities each meal.

Your dog, on the other hand, is an omnivore. Just like you, your dog can be sustained by meat and plants alike. In serious survival situations, dogs are even able to be sustained entirely by a plant-based diet, though they would certainly prefer the protein of meat to function more efficiently. Dogs are also able to eat more infrequently than cats, though in larger portions, and carry on happily, slowly digesting and using a large meal’s calories throughout the day. Dogs are even able to resourcefully utilize their fat stores as energy in a pinch!

For more detailed information on your pet’s dietary needs, look through our nutrition page, or check our guide for knowing what to look for in a pet food label.

Other Differences

  • Your cat has retractable claws, allowing her to keep them deadly and sharp for serious situations. Your dog, however, is constantly wearing down his claws as he walks, so they tend to be duller.
  • Your cat’s body is designed for climbing and jumping, allowing her to chase prey (or squirrels and birds) up trees or other high objects. Your dog is designed to be more earthbound, unable to jump or climb nearly as efficiently as his feline friend.
  • Your cat is more likely to potty train herself with the help of a litter box, instinct doing most of the work for you. Your dog, however, will need to be trained when he is still a puppy where and when it is appropriate to relieve himself, which can take a lot of time and effort.
  • Your cat, fully grown, will have thirty teeth. Your dog will have forty-two.
  • Your cat will digest and metabolize certain medications differently than your dog, or even you, would, which makes certain medications toxic to cats that are perfectly safe for you and your canine counterpart.
  • Your cat will likely have a much better memory than your dog. Cats can remember things for up to sixteen hours, compared to five minutes in a dog.

Need More Information?

If you have any more questions about your pets, do not hesitate to contact your local veterinarian, or, if you would like a better understanding of your pet’s particular breed, head over to our breed page to get an idea of what to expect from your new dog or cat. Additionally, feel free to find the answer to questions you may have on our Ask a Vet library.