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Dogs and Cats in the Home: Happiness for All?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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‘Dogs and Cats in the Home: Happiness for All?’ was a Finalist in the inaugural ScienceSeeker Awards* in the category Best Post About Peer-reviewed Research (winners and finalists listed here). Congrats to all those recognized and many thanks to the judges** for putting in how many hours?

A version of this post first appeared at Do you believe in dog? (Twitter @DoUBelieveInDog) a joint pen pal blog between myself and Mia Cobb, an animal welfare scientist and canine researcher just outside Melbourne, Australia.

RECENTLY, I was part of a Cats in Context conference at Canisius College (say that three times fast) in Buffalo, NY held by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR). The previous conference discussed The Future of Zoos (and all talks are available online), but this year’s focus was cats, cats and more cats. Speakers investigated all angles of The Cat — genetics, domestication, cognition, nutrition, behavior problems, health issues, shelter and feral welfare, cats and the wildlife and cat hoarders.

Lucky for me, Cats in Context came with a side of dogs, in the form of my lecture ‘Dogs and Cats in the Home’. While 15.3% of pet-owning households live with both cats and dogs, cats and dogs as a unit haven’t received much attention from researchers.

Here’s a 100% made-up graph comparing the academic research devoted to “Dog”, “Cat” and “Dog and Cat” behavior and cognition. Dogs receive the bulk of the attention, cats get far less, and dogs and cats as a unit are way down at the bottom.

Odie and Garfield
When I say dogs and cats in the home, what comes to mind? An image of a dog and a cat sparring? An arched back? Piloerection? “Frenemies“?

The limited research suggests that many dogs and cats living together look like some version of this:

Odie and Garfield Research
One study used a questionnaire and in-home behavior observations to investigate the relationship between dogs and cats living in the same household. The overarching finding was that many relationships showed signs of “mutual amicability.” The researchers found that many dogs and cats displayed “a motivation to initiate mutual play.” Additionally, 75% of dog and cat pairs displayed nose-to-nose contact, which is characteristic of friendly and affiliative relationships, specifically among cats. So, it’s pretty awesome that the researchers found this behavior between dogs and cats.

One of the major factors contributing to successful relationships between dogs and cats seemed to be age of first encounter, suggesting that early introductions to the other species promote subsequent amicable relationships.

Of course, not all dogs and cats living in the same home are best buds, but what this research reminds us is that amicable relationships are not just the stuff of movies!

Do you live with a dog and cat? Do they get along? What’s your story?


* What is ScienceSeeker? As Sci Am Blog Editor, Bora Zivkovic explains, ScienceSeeker is the main portal for collecting, connecting and filtering science writing online, especially on science blogs.” Take a looksie and see what you’re missing. Follow @SciSeeker

** The judges: Fraser Cain, Maggie Koerth-Baker, and Maryn McKenna.

Images: Graph by author; Get the cat! by Greencolander; Content dog and cat by Roger H. Goun, nose-to-nose by Livinginmonrovia

Feuerstein N. & Terkel J. (2008). Interrelationships of dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis catus L.) living under the same roof, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113 (1-3) 150-165. DOI:

London K. (2012). Piloerection: What’s going on when a dog does this? The Bark online blog.

Julie Hecht About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher, science writer, and PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. karenalcott 2:01 pm 05/19/2013

    I have found that bringing a puppy into a home with an appropriately socialized cat, sets off the same parenting behavior as bringing in a new kitten. They want to feed the puppy and then teach it to hunt, if the puppy gets a swat no blood is drawn because it’s the same sort of swat a kitten gets when it misbehaves. I have only encountered one cat who will not socialize with the family dogs and he won’t socialize with any people, other than myself, either, as he is a semi converted feral cat. You have to consider that dogs and cats who are properly socialized are already living in a close family unit with another species, us. They are more like each other than they are like us so they enjoy playing the same types of games together, games based on hunting behaviors like chase and pounce from hiding.
    In general, I think people don’t realize how social cats are. Unless they live in a house hold with more than one animal, they wouldn’t get to see it. A lot of cat socializing doesn’t look very social to us, but it is to them. We had a big tabby shorthair Tom when I was a kid and he was very successful. He had a big territory with all the perks, the next territory over was held by a huge Maine Coon Tom, on sunny days they would lounge at their shared border within a couple of feet of each other grooming and napping. Both of these old guys lived in homes with children and dogs so they probably enjoyed the peace and quiet.

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  2. 2. Suttkus 9:49 pm 05/19/2013

    I can’t say I’ve ever kept a dog and cat together (being somewhat allergic to dogs), but I can report that my first cat, Shifter, had a friendly relationship with the neighbor’s dog, Roy. Roy would chase him around, but there was never any sign that Shifter was actually scared. In fact, when Shifter tired of play, he would just lay down and Roy would stop chasing him. I can’t recall them ever curling up together to sleep, like all those cute animal photos, but they certainly would take naps very close to each other. I think Shifter liked Roy better than he liked any of the humans in his household. : – )

    I should point out that Shifter, generally, did not run from neighborhood dogs. His preferred technique for dealing with an aggressive dog was to rip it’s nose to shreds with his claws. More than one neighborhood stray started avoiding our yard.

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  3. 3. sjfone 4:11 am 05/20/2013

    There is a room in Hell filled with cats.

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  4. 4. brublr 9:50 pm 05/20/2013

    Just finished Virginia Morell’s book, “Animal Wise’, on the latest research on the minds and emotions of animals; one point in the book is very interesting. All domestic animals over the last 10,000 years have experienced a 10% shrinkage in actual brain matter as compared with their feral counterparts. Over the last 30,000, we have experienced the same. This can be googled and verified with pages of references. No one has come up with a reason. Perhaps the process of socialization has this effect, what else?

    Dogs have evidently a number of differing genetic lines but all domestic cats apparently began at Gobekli Tepe, Turkey; the first stone temples were built there 12,000 years ago and are only now being excavated (since 1995) The original Eden story may refer to the area and the site was deliberately buried 2000 years after it was built. It was fertile then, barren now and probably when it was buried. No metals or pottery shards. 13′ high T shaped columns were used in 18 stone henges and quarried with flint axes. Einkorn wheat is genetically linked to the area’s wheat (500 artisans would need a food supply; seems to be first the temple, then the city) as are all the worlds domestic cats (12 wildcats worldwide) Wikipedia and Google Image search will reveal all to those interested.

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  5. 5. TomE9999 10:36 pm 05/20/2013

    Our family has had a good experience with a mixed household (at our high water mark we had 5 cats and 5 dogs). We started with a rescued young female cat, then brought in a 9 week old Dachshund male puppy. The cat jumped into the role of mother, constantly trying to groom/lick the dog scent off of the dog. Our next pet was a young male cat. This time it was the Dachshund’s turn to groom the young male cat. The only dogs we’ve had any trouble chasing / pestering the cats were relatively high energy Terriers. All in all, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  6. 6. InDefenseOfCats 10:51 pm 05/20/2013

    When I “met” a feral kitten who needed a home, I did not think my 6-year dogs would tolerate one. However, I followed wise advice and gave the kitten his own room for a week, and the dogs DID realize that he was part of our pack by his presence in the home, his scent, and my kind treatment of him. It helped that Magic loved dogs who were sometimes his only companions as a lonely orphan and that he persisted in wanting to play with them; the dogs then decided to accept him as a playmate.

    My subsequent cat, Tristan, was 11 when I adopted him at a shelter and he was not fond of dogs. The dogs were open to him though and wanted to be close to him after a week, but Tristan was wary of them and struck out at them with his paws. After that, the dogs gave him a wide berth and then Tristan tried to befriend them (knowing they were not interested in a fight) and tease them with sudden fun lunges from under the bed or around corners. The dogs and cat now run to meals together, look out windows together, doze together, etc. The dogs have never forgotten the feel of a sharp claw though, and they tend to leave one eye open on Tristan’s movements to avoid any sudden swipes. Even though Tristan has kept his claws in from those first few times, the dogs refuse to take any chances!

    - Author Janette at

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  7. 7. Julie Hecht in reply to Julie Hecht 11:06 pm 05/20/2013

    Great contribution. I too am very happy about the publication of Morell’s book, “Animal Wise”

    Regarding your interest in cat domestication, I think you’ll be interested to know that “Cat Sense” comes out in September 2013, authored by Anthrozoology researcher, John Bradshaw, (who also wrote, “Dog Sense”. I see a theme).

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  8. 8. brublr 1:20 am 05/21/2013

    Thanks, I’ve ordered ‘Cat Sense’ and look forward to it.

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  9. 9. Eromanga 1:24 am 05/21/2013

    One of the funniest things I’ve seen was our (always dirty) male white cat hanging by one paw from the mouth of our female Newfoundland while playing. Didn’t bother the dog at all that it had claws in it’s mouth. The cat would come on walks with the dog as well and chase after sticks (no retrival though).

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  10. 10. brublr 1:47 am 05/21/2013

    Also, if you haven’t already read this:

    The Evolution of House Cats: Scientific American‎
    by CA Driscoll – Related articles
    Jun 10, 2009 – Despite its mercurial nature, however, the house cat is the most popular pet in the world. A third of American households have feline members, …

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  11. 11. ramazon 8:28 am 05/21/2013

    `I have a large dog and two cats. There is definate interspecies affection. THere is lots of nose to nose contact and the cats like to bump their sides and rub their tails on my dog.

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