Can cats and dogs live in purrfect harmony?
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Researchers from Dogs Trust have published new findings on how dog owners introduce their new puppies to their existing household cats, and what factors were associated with desirable behaviour from the puppies.
Cats and dogs are extremely popular pets, and some households own both species. Although they can live amicably together, understanding their relationship is highly important because the quality of the relationship can impact both animals' welfare and potentially the owners' wellbeing too.
Dog owners with new puppies often seek advice on how to introduce their new family member to their existing household cats, but when it comes down to it, what do owners actually do and how do the puppies behave? Researchers from Dogs Trust decided to explore these questions using data from Generation Pup which is a cohort study of canine health, behaviour, and welfare. They found that 26.7% of puppies (n=1248/4678) joined a house-hold with at least one cat. Owners introduced their puppy to their existing household cats at different speeds — 40.2% were introduced gradually (i.e. over a period of more than 1 day) (n=487/1211), and the remaining were introduced during the puppy's first day in the household (n=724).
Owners were asked to report what behaviours they had observed from their puppies following the introduction (Figure 1). The most common behaviours were playing (58.9%), being over-excited (56.6%), and chasing (48.6%). For the analysis, the puppy behaviours were grouped into the two categories: 1) ‘Desirable’ behaviours (acting calm and uninterested), and 2) ‘Undesirable’ behaviours (one or more of the remaining categories). The ‘undesirable’ behaviours were those considered by behaviourists to be less likely to lead to a successful relationship between the puppy and cat(s), hence ‘undesirable’ is from the perspective of the cat. Although not all play behaviour is undesirable, some puppy playfulness may be perceived by cats as threatening, hence play behaviour was categorised as an ‘undesirable’ behaviour.
Figure 1. Owner-reported behaviour displayed by 1211 puppies towards existing household cat(s).
Just 7.3% of puppies showed only ‘desirable’ behaviours (n=88), the remaining puppies showed one or more undesirable behaviour (with/without desirable behaviours also being displayed). Puppies with increased odds of showing only ‘desirable’ behaviours were those that had been introduced early (when the puppy was under 12-weeks-old), gradually, and/or lived in a household with another dog.
Researchers also analysed free text response on how owners introduced their pets. Two styles of introductions that were adopted by owners were identified. First, ‘owner-led’ introductions where the owners managed the interactions between the pets. Second, ‘pet-led introduction’ where owners allowed the cat(s) to choose when and how to interact with the puppy. Some owners described a blended approach, for example, allowing the cat(s) to introduce themselves but also manipulating the pets' environment to allow the cat(s) to stay separated from the puppy if they chose to do so. Owners who led introductions expected amicable relationships between pets. Whereas owners who let pets lead the introduction often anticipated puppies to be taught respect by the cat and generally expected puppies and cats to not be friendly with each other. A variety of management methods were mentioned by owners, for example, using stairgates to separate pets, creating a ‘safe space’ for the cat(s), rewarding calm behaviour, keeping the puppy on a lead, and not leaving the pets alone together.
Veterinary professionals, being a key point of contact for pet owners, have an important role to play in supporting owners. The findings from this recent study suggest that more education for owners around cat–dog interactions could help to change owners' expectations about these relationships and dispel the myth that cats and dogs cannot have an amicable relationship (Figure 2). Additionally, the researchers highlighted the need to increase owners' understanding of cat body language as many owners accepted behaviours from their cat(s), such as aggression and avoidance, which are indicative of stress. If you would like to read the latest advice from Dogs Trust on cats and dogs living together, please visit: https://bit.ly/3rMRqYC.
© Credit: Claire Murphy.
Figure 2. Cohabiting pets, Eddie and Hank.
The research discussed here comes from the paper entitled ‘Introducing a puppy to existing household cat(s): mixed method analysis’, which is open access and can be read at https://www.mdpi.com/1826430.
Finally, if you want to know more about Generation Pup and how you can help us recruit more puppies to this pioneering project, please visit https://generationpup.ac.ukDownload Now