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Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

The cats vs dogs saga is a tail as old as time. Which is the superior breed of pet? There is much opinion on the matter, and so the debate rages onward. As unbiased Emotional Support Animal advocates, we are firm believers that the answer is an unequivocal TIE. Cats and dogs both make wonderful companions in their own distinct ways. If you are curious which species would be best suited to meet your particular emotional support needs, read on! You will learn some interesting facts about each and hopefully be better equipped to make an informed decision. 

Table of Contents
Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

Natural Instincts 

In the wild, dogs are innate “pack” animals. Each member of the pack contributes by finding food and providing defense for the benefit of all. This explains why domestic dogs are hardwired to be social. They are used to surviving and thriving in a group setting. They crave belonging to a family or even a single person who can provide care and companionship. Dogs are very loyal and protective. Their owners often proclaim sincere confidence that their dog will be there when needed most. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, making them more ready to accept experiences, such as travel or moving. This mentality can be helpful but also makes it hard for dogs to be left alone, especially for long periods. They desire closeness and attention, which makes your absence very noticeable to them. 

In comparison, most cats in the wild are solo artists. Hunting and fleeing from danger are easier tasks to accomplish alone since cats can jump, climb, and utilize their sharp, retractable claws. For domestic cats, these instincts make them more independent than dogs. Cats are more self-sufficient, but they are brilliant and capable of developing powerful bonds with their owners. They closely observe who feeds them, pats them, and desires to please them. They pay attention to the details and offer respect for attentiveness. Felines are more resistant to big changes like moving and even small changes like switching their food bowl location. On the positive side, most cats are generally okay with being left alone for long stretches of time. They like to sleep during the day, roam around at night, cuddle on a whim, and be given their space when needed.

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Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

So what do these predispositions mean for your mental health needs?

Well, Cats and dogs aren’t the only ones with different temperaments and personality traits. According to Psychology Today, cat parents and dog parents tend to differ significantly as well. Considering your mental health needs will aid in having realistic goals when it comes to the emotional help you are seeking from your animal. 

As discussed, cats are incredibly empathetic animals. They are great in helping you cope with deep emotions such as the loss of a loved one. They provide a form of social support that closely resembles the presence of a significant other. Felines help to fight feelings of loneliness that tend to accompany many psychological disorders. Feeling understood can help you cope with and fight depression, among other things. 

Due to their nocturnal tendencies, cats are readily available for comfort in the wee hours of the night. This could be very beneficial for assistance with sleep terrors, insomnia, seasonal depression, and panic disorders. Cats are great for individuals who don’t like to be smothered and would rather be selective with companionship. Those who may not have the energy to give back in large capacity would appreciate a kitty’s simultaneous laissez-faire yet dedicated demeanor. 

We have established that dogs love company, attention, and action. Most dogs will easily provide a sense of security. They are sure to help you feel seen, heard, and abundantly loved. Cats can be moody, but dogs typically have a joyful demeanor ALL the time. Younger dogs require more energy and supervision, which can add structure to your day but may not fit all human personalities. While cats and dogs both make wonderful Emotional Support Animals, only dogs are recognized by the ADA as Service Animals. If you are suffering from a mental health disability that will eventually require more in-depth, task-trained assistance, then a dog may be the better option. Air travel laws for animals have also changed. Any animal other than a Service Dog will be subject to regular pet policies; therefore, frequent travelers should consider these accommodation restrictions when choosing between a cat or dog.

There are additional practicalities to consider when choosing the best ESA for your lifestyle, one of which is your current housing situation.

While smaller dogs can be pleased living in an apartment/condo, they still need their outdoor exercise. If your apartment/condo is nearby parks and walking trails, less living space may not be a problem. However, keep in mind that if you don’t have an accessible backyard, you will need to venture out with your pup to keep him active and healthy. Some particular mental health disabilities such as social anxiety, depression, or PTSD often prevent people from desiring to leave their homes. If you fit into this category, then a dog’s exercise needs could be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it may give you that extra push to get up and moving in the morning. You may find yourself more focused on your dog’s need for interaction with the great outdoors than your own desire to stay reclusive. On the other hand, it may become an insurmountable task to gather the motivation to execute your dog’s daily exercise routine. Don’t let these factors completely sway you, however. Some smaller dogs may not require the same amount of active energy release as larger breeds.

Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

Cats don’t need a lot of space to stretch their limbs and play. They enjoy pouncing around the room to chase that laser pointer, stalking some catnip mice, or climbing a nice indoor treehouse. Smaller spaces are not a challenge for feline friends. In fact, cats love to squeeze themselves into nooks and crannies. That sounds cute when you say it out loud, but if you are prone to feelings of intense loneliness or anxiety, then a cat living in a larger home may not be ideal. Dogs will come looking for you and stay by your side as much as possible, but cats are masters of hide-and-seek who tend to disappear intentionally. A “Where’s Waldo” situation could leave you worried about your cat’s wellbeing or feeling abandoned if they choose not to reveal themselves when called to. Cats are affectionate and attentive, but not always. They can rely on themselves for the stimulation they need no matter what size home they reside in. 

There are ways around limited or even over-abundant living space obstacles, but it’s important to weigh whether or not it’s worth it for you. Overall, the goal for your Emotional Support Animal is to help, not hinder.

Financial Capacity

Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

Cost should indeed be considered when choosing your Emotional Support Animal. While your ESA provides you with care for your mind and soul, it is your job to provide them with care for their body. For several reasons, dogs tend to be more expensive to care for than cats (but not always). Larger dogs eat more, go through toys faster, sometimes need professional grooming, and typically have more regular veterinarian upkeep. If you don’t have many other pressing expenses, these points might not be an issue for you. The constant companionship and contagious joy a dog brings could be well worth a slightly greater bank account depletion. 

The costs of caring for a cat vary with each animal. Sometimes kitties have more sensitive digestive systems, which result in pricier food requirements. Thankfully cats will save you money by being self-groomer, but this also means that they will develop hairballs from all those tongue baths. No matter the cause, it can be very stressful to have a puking petunia on your hands! Felines also have claws, as we mentioned earlier. These little tools serve them well in the wild but can be pesky nuisances for homeowners. Cats have a deep, instinctive need to kneed. This desire is sometimes referred to as “making biscuits.” Clever scratching posts are readily available for purchase, but some cats will still gravitate towards clawing at couches, pillows, and curtains. We all know those are not inexpensive items to replace.

Cats vs Dogs: Which is the Right Emotional Support Animal for You?

When it comes to toilet talk, cats have the advantage over dogs. Indoor cats use the litter box instinctively, and outdoor cats use whatever they please. After showing an indoor cat where the box is one time, they usually have no trouble remembering where to go! Dogs can be a lot tougher to potty train. Teaching them where it is and isn’t acceptable to go typically takes a lot of repetition and positive reinforcement. Dogs are also more apt to mark their territory, which increases the risk of them peeing in places you’d prefer they didn’t. As you can imagine, pee-pee trouble means extra funds for cleaning services or materials! 

Whether your immediate needs align with dog ownership or cat ownership more closely, you should keep in mind that the listed facts are all generalities. Cats and dogs are unique individuals and not a one size fits all solution. Genetics, breed, temperament, and background all play a part in how friendly, sociable, and teachable your animal will be. You might find that it is not just the species you gravitate towards but rather the bond you form with a particular animal.

Cats and dogs tend to be the most common, but did you know that Emotional Support Animals come in a wide variety of choices? Many people find support in reptiles, bunnies, and even birds! No matter which species you choose, American Service Pets is here to help ensure you can remain living together forever.

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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