• Having a dog can boost your social life
  • The relative health benefits of pet ownership
  • Could goofy dogs be set to overtake comedy cats?

Until recently, heated arguments over which is the superior pet have been fuelled exclusively by personal preference. Then the internet happened, allowing us to track the digital popularity of both. Although cats have always appeared to rule online, their canine counterparts are biting back.

Cats have historically reigned supreme on the internet, but now, the loyalty and plain silliness of dogs may be giving cats' brilliant weirdness a run for its money.

So, while the web allows us all to revel in our animals' antics and portray our pets in all their glory, how about in real life? Muzzles on and claws retracted please, folks.

The back of a man and a woman both carrying two dogs who are looking over the peoples shoulders

Social life

In terms of real-life interaction with other humans, cats don't offer a great deal. In fact, the best place to make friends through your cat is on social media, where dedicated Facebook groups come together to share photos, videos, silly stories and useful tips.

Dogs, on the other hand, necessitate outdoor time, during which they seek out canine companions of their own, throwing you together with other owners. Cue long chat about the highs and lows of puppy training, a slightly awkward moment when leads become tangled, or some embarrassment as your dog becomes over-friendly with their beloved hound. 

When it comes to love, it seems owning a pooch also makes you more attractive to potential partners. Of those people attracted to pet owners, 63% would go for someone with a dog, while 90% of self-professed dog lovers are more attracted to dog owners. Woof!

Winner: Dog owners

A woman holding a dog. Both woman and dog look like they are laughing with their mouths open

Health

While we've no doubt that you've been extremely diligent about the welfare of your four-legged friend – plush velvet cushion, weekly claw clippings, the finest pet insurance – their presence in your life has a multitude of health benefits for you, too. Research published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation shows that pet ownership can be associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors, and has a positive impact on the body's reaction to stress.

A study by the American Psychological Association revealed that having a pet generally makes you happier, healthier and better adjusted than non-pet owners.

Having a pet around at night can, contrary to popular belief, help you sleep better. A study by the Center for Sleep Medicine found that 41% of respondents 'perceived their pets as unobtrusive or beneficial to sleep' versus just 20% who described them as disruptive.

While having a dog might get you out and about more, it seems the health benefits of having a pet around are more psychological than physical – so we're going to have to call this one quits.

Winner: Draw

A cat licking its paw

Cleanliness

Be honest: how often have you seen your dog grooming itself? Often, it's too distracted by food, following you around, sleeping, barking or rolling in something smelly. Cats, on the other hand, are well known for spending hours licking away, all in the name of cleanliness. 

Even outdoor cats rarely come back inside, coat sopping wet, with the express purpose of standing as close to you as possible and violently shaking dry – and they don't come with that distinctive 'wet dog' smell either.

Granted, you might find yourself with an unwanted bird or mouse-shaped gift from time to time, and litter trays are never 100 percent mess-free – but, as a general rule, if you want to control the cleaning chaos, cats are where it's at.

Winner: Cat owners

A dog jumping onto a kitchen table and eating its owners food while her back is turned

Companionship

While cats may wander into the room, meow and station themselves near you – and sometimes, if you're lucky, sit on your lap – any time spent together is entirely on their terms. They won't be called, coerced or cajoled; if they're tricked into cuddles by the rattle of treats, they're sure to disappear as soon as they've eaten.

Dogs, on the other hand, live to please. According to research conducted for the BBC2 documentary Cats v Dogs, dogs released far more of the so-called 'love hormone' oxytocin after playing with their owners than cats: 57.2% versus 12%.

Then there's the greeting you get having left the room for, say, five minutes; a dog will regularly be beside itself with glee when you return, while a cat is likely to remain asleep or pointedly leave the room as soon as you enter it. Plus, you can far more easily take a dog with you for a weekend away or a trip to your local pub.

Winner: Dog owners

A grumpy brown and white cat

Fame

Ask anyone for a famous internet animal and you're likely to hear the words 'Grumpy Cat'. She's a four-year-old calico mix with feline dwarfism, and she's an internet sensation. She's 'authored' a number of books, starred in a video game and released a range of branded merchandise.

Or you might hear about Maru, a Scottish fold living in Japan who rose to prominence on YouTube eight years ago. He's racked up 336 million views on his videos – mostly attempting (and failing) to get into boxes far too small for his furry bulk. 

The internet has allowed our feline friends to find fame like never before. Got a cute cat? Wait, scratch that: got a cat? Fame could well be on its way if you've got a knack for a strapline and a passion for hashtags.

On the side of the dogs, teddy bear Pomeranian Boo has amassed 17 million followers on Facebook, while Shih Tzu Marnie The Dog has 2.1 followers on Instagram. So, cat owners: you've just about pipped this one – but you'd better watch your backs.

Winner: Cat owners

A draw!

For cleanliness, a chance at reflected fame and a little purr box to keep your feet warm at night, cat owners step forward. For sociable outings and unwavering devotion, dog owners rejoice. But really, every loving pet owner is a winner. And for those of you who love both dogs and cats, the answer's simple: get both.