Pets at home: do cats and dogs really fight like cats and dogs?

Study finds the species generally live under the same roof in harmony – although cats are far more antagonistic

There are times when living under the same roof can test even the most patient among us. When favourite chairs are already taken, and food mysteriously disappears, it is no wonder that tempers start to fray – and that’s just the pets.

In a rare study, researchers set out to explore the relationships between cats and dogs that shared the same homes. They found that while cats might rightly feel the more nervous of the species, they appeared to have little trouble in asserting themselves.

The online survey of 748 homeowners from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and Europe found that more than 80% felt their pets were comfortable with one another, with only 3% declaring that their cats and dogs could not stand one another.

But despite the general picture of harmony, the survey revealed cats were by far the more antagonistic of the animals. Homeowners reported that cats were three times more likely to threaten their canine housemates than vice versa, and 10 times more likely to injure them in a fight. Not that the dogs seemed unduly concerned: more than a fifth reportedly picked up toys to show them to cats, compared with only 6% of cats doing the same for dogs.

Researchers at the University of Lincoln launched the study to find out what made for happy cat-dog relationships. With more pets of different species living together, they argue, an amicable coexistence is important for welfare and could reduce the risk of pets ending up in rehoming centres.

“We really wanted to know what is it that makes cats and dogs amicable,” said Sophie Hall, a co-author on the study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. “They are often portrayed as the worst of enemies, but that isn’t always the case.”

Working with her colleagues Jessica Thomson and Daniel Mills, Hall found that cats and dogs rarely fought like, well, cats and dogs. While 57% of owners said their cats hissed, spat and swatted at dogs, and 18% said their dogs threatened cats, less than 10% of cats and only 1% of dogs ever harmed the other animal.

Hall believes the reason may lie in domestication. Because dogs have been domesticated for longer and are more easily trained than cats, they may be better able to control their behaviour. And with cats most often the underdog in any scrap that unfolds, the animals might understandably need more reassurance that they are safe under the same roof. “It’s easier for dogs to be happier around cats than for cats to be happy around dogs,” she said.

After pooling information provided by homeowners, the researchers found that the best predictor for a happy cat-dog relationship was the cat’s age when it began living with the dog. “One thing owners can be aware of is the age of the cat, and to make sure they get the cat at a young age,” said Hall, adding that under a year old may be best.

“Owners shouldn’t be deterred from having both cats and dogs,” she said. “In general, both animals are seen as being really comfortable around each other which goes against what we might think. We shouldn’t think that they can’t live happily together.”


Ian Sample Science editor

The GuardianTramp

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