Animal psychology

Study of cats and dogs living together finds they get along well, despite differences

cats dogs living together

The love-hate feelings between dogs and cats are legendary, especially when looking specifically at cats and dogs living together.

In fact, the topic of cat-dog relationships has recently become increasingly popular among animal scientists. And now a new study by researchers in Italy adds to the literature by looking at how cats and dogs that live under the same roof get along.

The authors of the study, which appears in the journal PLoS ONE, gave questionnaires to 1270 residents of Italy who own both a cat and a dog (or several of either or both).

The study reaffirms many stereotypes about pet personality, but also shows they these two species can easily cohabitate without much conflict.

Neurotic cats and extraverted dogs

The results largely compart with prior research. In general, pet owners think of dogs as friendly and cats as neurotic.

The study found that that 85% of the dogs have a friendly relationship with their owner, versus only 49% for cats. And cats are more likely to ignore dogs than vice versa.

Nonetheless, 64% of the “surveyed” dogs and cats play together at least sometimes.

The owners said that their dogs were more friendly than cats to people they knew: 96% of dogs versus only 79% for cats were friendly to familiar humans. The owners also described cats as more likely to be either uninterested in strangers, or scared of them. Dogs were also friendlier to strangers than cats were (51% vs 29%).

When it came to members of the same species, 84% of the dogs were friendly to known dogs, and 36% were friendly to unknown dogs. This contrasts with cats, of whom 49% were friendly to known cats, and 10% friendly to unknown cats

Pets under the same roof means eating together, sometimes

Heartwarmingly, after they had finished eating, about a quarter of the cats and dogs in the survey waited close by until their housemate pet also finished eating.

The survey respondents also indicated that their dogs tended to eat from a bowl on the ground, whereas cats’ bowls were generally atop a surface, like a countertop or tabletop.

About 58% of the cats and dogs slept next to each other at least sometimes. In 11% of cases, they always slept side by side, their owners said.

Cats and dogs fight, play, and sometimes ignore each other

At the same time, 42% of the cats ignored the dog, vs. only 28% in the other direction. Just under 18% of cats and dogs living under the same roof ignored each other. And 10% of the cats hissed at the dog, versus only 2% of dogs growling at the cat. About a third of both cats and dogs engaged in nose-to-nose greetings.

Cats were more likely to attack dogs than vice versa. The participants reported that 24% of the surveyed dogs had been attacked at least once by a cat, while only 22% of cats had been attacked by a dog.

Just over 64% of the cats and dogs living together also played together; 58% chased each other, and 41% fought. Almost two thirds of the pets sometimes playfully “ambush” the other. And almost 44% of cats sometimes played with the dog’s tail.

Stereotypes about dogs and cats: do they hold up?

This study confirms the widely-held belief that dogs are, in general, more extraverted, and cats are more distant. This is perhaps because dogs have been domesticated for much longer than cats, which may explain why households with multiple cats often report abnormal cat behavior; they’re still not “used to” the idea of living in a house with humans and other cats. Or at least not as used to this idea as dogs are.

The research also suggests that dog play is more social in nature, with its main purpose being the formation of social bonds. Cat play, on the other hand, more closely resembles hunting behavior, with a clear distinction between prey and predator. Likewise, cats tended to have more of a negative reaction when the dog approached when the cat was being pet by the human.

In terms of possible limitations of this study, the authors point out that people with cats and dogs living together peacefully might be more likely or willing to fill in a questionnaire about their pets’ behaviors.

And in terms of timeliness, this study come at the right moment. The number of cats and dogs sharing the same house is increasing, meaning that the more pet owners know about how to manage these odd couples, the better.

If you’re planning to add a new pet, see this helpful guide on introducing a new cat or dog to your household.


Study:Cats and dogs: Best friends or deadly enemies? What the owners of cats and dogs living in the same household think about their relationship with people and other pets
Authors: Laura Menchetti, Silvia Calipari, Chiara Mariti, Angelo Gazzano, and Silvana Diverio
Published in: PLoS ONE
Publication date: August 26, 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237822
Photo: by joy617 from Pixabay 

For a weekly summary of the latest psychology news, subscribe to our Psych News Weekly newsletter.

Sign up to receive awesome psychology news
in your inbox, every week.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Related posts
Animal psychologyMore

Innocent badgers behind "awful" and “disgusting” looting of Viking graves

It turns out that badgers are to blame for the looting of Viking graves at an ancient burial site in the Norwegian town of Oppdal.
Animal psychologyPersonality

Dog personality changes as dogs age, but in predictable ways

A new study finds that dog personality changes as dogs get older: they tend to become less curious, but grow more attached to their owners.
Animal psychologyMental Health

Pets linked to better mental health and less loneliness during lockdown

A new study shows that having a pet acts as a buffer against psychological stress during the coronavirus lockdown.