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Feature September 2017 Issue

Feline-Friendly — or Not?

A recent study focuses on new ways to assess a dog’s ability to live safely with cats and other small animals.

feline friendly

© Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime.com

Surprisingly, research revealed that dogs are more responsive to the sounds of cats than to the sights or smells of cats.

A study conducted earlier this year examined whether canine responses to cat-related sights, sounds and smells provide clues about which dogs are cat-friendly. Published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, the study takes the first steps in identifying new ways to evaluate whether specific dogs are likely to get along with cats — without having to stress any cats in the process.

“When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is: ‘What is the dog like with cats?’” explains lead author Christy L. Hoffman, PhD. She explains that standardized assessments exist to assess dogs’ behaviors around humans and other dogs. Currently, however, there is no validated way to predict how a dog in an animal shelter will behave around cats, unless the dog’s previous history is known. “Our study investigated what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like,” continues Dr. Hoffman, assistant professor of animal behavior, ecology and conservation at Canisius College.

To do this, she and her team examined the responses of 69 dogs of a variety of breeds to three different stimuli: a realistic-looking cat doll, recordings of cat sounds and the smell of cat urine. Their findings revealed that dogs are more responsive to the sounds of cats than to the sights or smells of cats. Specifically, dogs with a history of killing or injuring a cat or other small animal spent longer orienting to the cat sounds than the other dogs. There was no relationship between dogs’ histories with cats and other small animals and their reactions to visual or olfactory information.

“As humans, our first thought was to test dogs’ responses to the cat doll because it visually resembles a real cat. However, our findings suggest that dogs are relying more heavily on another sense: hearing. This was surprising because most behavioral assessments focus on dogs’ responses to visual stimuli. Our findings suggest that employing assessments that engage other sensory modalities — especially sound — may provide additional clues about an individual dog’s behavior. Indeed, it may be possible to use audio recordings of cats to assess which shelter dogs are likely to fare well in a home with cats or other small animals,” concludes Dr. Hoffman.

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