Sunday, August 23, 2009

Owning Both a Dog and a Cat: Start Them Young

We have been expecting them to get along for perhaps thousands of years. An Italian woodcut from 1549 shows two dogs and a cat waiting for scraps to fall, or be thrown, from a table (Banchetti Compositioni di Vivende, 1549).  The second picture is the left section of Pietro Lorenzetti's Last Supper in Assisi (c. 1520).

Two scientists at Tel Aviv University recently applied some scientific approaches to looking at the interactions of dogs and cats living in the same households. Neta-li Feuerstein and Joseph Terkel, Interrelationships of Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Cats (Felis catus L.) Living under the Same Roof, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113, 150-165 (2008). Feuerstein and Terkel note that both species were attracted by the presence of food in human settlements. Cats served as controllers of vermin in grain supplies, and though this may have begun in Egypt, the oldest evidence of a domesticated cat comes from Cyprus around 9,500 years ago. These authors accept an older date for the emergence of the dog, somewhere between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago. They accept that cats are at an earlier phase of domestication than dogs.

Dogs and cats both belong to the order Carnivora, but their social behavior is quite different. Dogs live and hunt in packs, but cats are mostly solitary hunters. Feuerstein and Terkel conducted their research through questionnaires and observations in the homes of individuals having both species as pets. They hypothesized that an early age of adoption would make things smoother, and that early adoption would also increase the amount of understanding the member of one species might have of the body cues of the other. Direct observations included using fixed situations such as rolling a ball between a dog and a cat to determine whether mutual play would occur, and to observe any dominant behavior. Cat food was placed between the dog and the cat to see what this would bring about. Cat food was used because dogs like the high protein content of cat food.

The researchers noted that certain behaviors had different meanings for each species. Stretching out the forefeet is, for a dog, a sign of amicability and submission, but for the cat it is an aggressive behavior. Lying on the back is submissive for a dog, but aggressive for a cat. Moving the head away is submissive for a dog, but aggressive and dominant for a cat, and horizontal tail wagging is amicable and submissive for a dog, but aggressive and even a hunting posture for a cat.

Dominance behavior patterns of the cat include direct stare, pricked ears, and jumping to a high place (higher than the dog). Aggressive behavior patterns of cats include:

• Growl
• Hiss or spit
• Piloerection (along the back, tail, or both), whiskers may also be directed
• Extracted claws
• Thrashing tail
• Arching the back and tail (creating an inverted U shape of the tail)
• Raised fore-leg
• Attack (lunge, using fore-legs, claws extracted)
• Flattened ears (pointing backwards)
• Lying on the back
• Averted gaze (with enlarged pupils)

Fear and submission behavior patters of cats include:

• Ears turned backwards
• Excessive salivation
• Backing away
• Crouched walk (lowered back, close to the floor)
• Sideways movement
• Tail flattened to the body (sometimes between the hind legs)
• Retreating (to occupy a position as far as possible from the dog
• Grooming (licking and grooming the body)
• Head shake (from side to side)

Play behavior patterns of cats include chirping, purring, kneading (with sheathed claws), moving the tip of the tail, rolling on the ground, and licking the dog’s face or body. For dogs, dominance behavior patterns include tail raised above the level of the back, direct stare, standing tall or stiff walking, pricked ears, lips pooled forward, barking, moving over the cat. Aggressive behavior patters include wrinkled on the upper part of the shout, bared teeth, hackles raised between shoulders and tail, growling, and attacking. Fear and submissive behavior patters include:

• Averted gaze
• Lowered tail
• Crouching walk or posture
• Lying on the back
• Flattened ears
• Lips retracted
• High pitched whine
• High pitched bark
• Backing away
• Yawn
• Licking lips
• Blinking
• Retreating

Play behavior patters include the play bow, play growl, chasing, lying on the back, biting, licking motion in the air or on the cat’s body, and play face (relaxed, lips retracted, ears falling downwards).

The researchers found that cats performed significantly more play behavior and fear or submission towards the dog than the other way around. Female cats exhibited a higher level of both aggression and indifference to the dogs compared with male cats, and a lower level of amicability towards the dogs. Neutered female cats were more often afraid of dogs than intact females. Dogs were found to be more friendly to cats if the dogs if the cat came first in the home. With cats it did not matter which came first. Dogs were less aggressive if they encountered the cats before the dogs were a year old. With cats, they were more friendly if they encountered the dogs before being six months old. In other words, cats lose their ability to adapt to dogs at an earlier age than is true of dogs with respect to cats.

As to the four behaviors in the table above which have opposite meanings for the species, the authors found that the animals read the meaning of the other species “significantly correctly.” They believe that the longer period of adaptability in dogs reflects the fact that dogs, descended from wolves, must develop collaborative hunting skills over a longer period of time, whereas cats become solitary hunters and do not need such social skills.

The authors argue that through adding a dog to a house with a cat, “the cat’s quality of life can be improved.” I would have to note that our cat, Jack, would very much disagree. Jack was ten years old when we adopted Chloe. He had spent most of his life in a coop apartment in Brooklyn Heights that allowed cats, but not dogs (cats don’t have to go into common areas very often). We could only adopt a dog when we moved out of the building. Jack has never taken to Chloe, though he has over time gained the upper hand. She stays clear of him, and he hisses if she gets near. He has become a mean cat, probably reflecting his feeling that things were just fine before she arrived. They have never played together, though Chloe spent years trying to accomplish that. Everyone’s experience is different.

The war between dogs and cats has been a source of wonder, and often amusement, though history. The last panel from a reconstructed Egyptian wall painting, dating from soon after the domestication of cats, shows the mouse pharoah and his army attacking the cat fortress. The dogs aid the mice by pulling pharoah's chariot. Since the mice seem to be winning, it must be assumed that the current pharoah was a dog person (or a mouse person). A. Erman (1894) Life in Ancient Egypt, p. 520. Macmillan & Co. London.

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