You're thinking of getting a pet, but you've heard stories about whether cats or dogs are cleaner and the last thing you need is a smelly apartment. The main difference between them is that cats mostly take care of their own hygiene, but dogs need help from their owners.
Cats typically have complex grooming routines. They often spend up to 50 percent of their waking hours grooming themselves and other cats. They use their barbed tongue to lick and comb through their fur, and dig out dirt with their teeth. They moisten their forepaws with saliva, and use them to wash their faces and any other areas they can’t reach easily. By contrast, dogs groom only their feet and their private parts, although a few breeds including basenjis, canaans and Siberian huskies reportedly clean themselves like cats. To keep your dog clean, she needs regular bathing and brushing.
Both cats and dogs have very specific toilet habits. Cats prefer privacy when performing their "business," whether they do it indoors or outdoors, and usually cover the feces with sand or cat litter afterwards. Indoor cats are particularly fussy about the cleanliness of their litter boxes, and may refuse to use a dirty litter box or to share one with another cat. Dogs, however, are very seldom particular about where they go potty, although they generally prefer grass to hard surfaces.
Cats seldom have body odors unless they have a medical condition, or they have difficulty grooming themselves because of age, illness or obesity. These can lead to dried urine and feces accumulating around their private parts, which may cause a body odor. Indoor cats’ litter boxes tend to produce the odor commonly known as “cat odor” if you do not keep them scrupulously clean, and cats are known to soil outside their boxes if you do not change the litter regularly. This makes the cat odor in a house much worse.
Dogs are not able to clean themselves like cats do, so the dead skin cells or dander clinging to their coats develop an odor. In addition, the dog’s skin produces oil, and they give off a light perspiration from their paws and hair follicles, which carries a chemical scent. They also have glands inside their ears that have a slight odor. All these scents combine to give the dog his normal “doggy” odor, and ear or skin infections can make the smell a lot stronger. Bathing and brushing the dog regularly will help keep the odor to a minimum.
Both cats and dogs shed hair, which tends to contribute to the general dirt in the home. Certain breeds of dog such as poodles shed less than other dogs, while cats such as the almost-hairless Sphinx have very little to shed. Even the so-called hypoallergenic dog and cat breeds constantly shed dander, however, which helps to create dust and is the main cause of pet allergies.
Dental care is necessary for both cats and dogs to keep their mouths as clean as possible and avoid plaque build-up and gum disease. No matter how often you clean their teeth, however, both animals carry bacteria in their mouths that cause problems if you get bitten. Dogs use their mouths for all sorts of activities, including checking out each other’s private parts, so letting your dog lick you isn’t the best idea. Cats use their mouths and teeth for grooming as well as eating raw meat or fish if that’s what you feed them, so the bacteria in a cat’s mouth is not species-specific as it is with dogs.
- ASPCA: Why Cats Groom So Much
- The Canaan Dog: Frequently Asked Questions
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Behavior Problems – House Soiling
- ASPCA: Behavioral Problems in Older Cats
- PetMD: Does Your Dog Smell Like …Dog?
- Health.com: 15 Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats - Poodle
- ABC 2020: Myth – Dogs Have Cleaner Mouths Than Humans
Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.