Many people will be familiar with their pets fighting like cat and dog, but scientists have made a discovery that could make such scraps a thing of the past.
Animal behaviour scientists from the University of Lincoln say filling the home with appeasing pheromones could be the key to dogs and cats living harmoniously under the same roof.
Pheromones are chemicals produced and secreted by living creatures, in small amounts, for a variety of purposes. Research, led by Professor Daniel Mills and Dr Miriam Prior, explored the effects of two different pheromone products on cat-dog interactions.
The results, published in Frontiers In Veterinary Science, show that both products used – Feliway Friends, which emits pheromones that are calming for cats, and Adaptil, which does the same for dogs – had a positive effect on the interactions between animals living in the same home.
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Over a six-week period, there was a notable decrease in the number of undesirable interactions when either product was used, researchers said. Undesirable actions were things such as the dog chasing the cat, the cat hiding from the dog, the cat and dog staring at each other, and the dog barking at the cat.
Prof Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln, said: “Although we are all aware of the perceived tensions between cats and dogs, we believe this is the first study of its kind to explore the use of pheromone products to improve the relationship when the two species are living in the same household.
“Seven percent of households in the UK own both a cat and a dog, which represents a large number of pet owners and their animals living with potentially stressful animal relationships on a day-to-day basis.”
He added: “Many cat and dog owners report that their animals are comfortable in each other’s company, but where this isn’t the case, a poor relationship between a resident cat and dog can have serious consequences for the welfare of individual animals.
“There may be an unacceptable level of social stress or restricted access to key resources such as food, water or suitable toilet areas. There will also be increased stress for the remainder of the family (both human and animal), and potential risks of injury due to conflict.”
The pet owners involved in the study reported weekly on the frequency of 10 specific undesirable interactions and seven specific desirable interactions between their cats and dogs. They were split into two groups – one using Feliway Friends and the other using Adaptil.
The pheromones were supplied in unlabelled packaging and randomly assigned by an independent staff member such that neither the participants nor the researchers knew which product was being trialled in each household until after the statistics had been collected.
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Dr Prior, a Lincoln-based vet who undertook the work as part of her postgraduate degree in clinical animal behaviour, said: “We would like to investigate this further to really tease out the effects of these pheromone products individually and also to investigate their use in combination with each other.
“We suggest that Adaptil may have had such a beneficial effect because a more relaxed dog may be less likely to disturb the cat, resulting in a cat that is less stressed and more willing to form some form of social bond with the dog.”
Thirty-six participants were enrolled on to the trial, of which two participants failed to complete the trial. Between weeks two and six, a more than 50 per cent reduction in undesirable behaviour scores was seen in eight out of 17 participants receiving Adaptil, and five out of 17 (29 per cent) participants receiving Feliway Friends.
A reduction of 30 per cent or more in undesirable behaviours was seen in 12 out of 17 (71 per cent) participants in both groups.
Reader Q&A: Which animals are more intelligent – dogs or cats?
Asked by: Thomas Galea, by email
It’s not obvious what ‘intelligence’ means when comparing different species. Dogs evolved from social creatures, and have a longer and closer association with humans, so it’s generally easier to train and communicate with them.
But, cats have evolved specialist hunting and reasoning skills that dogs lack. Brain size is no help, otherwise whales would be vastly cleverer than humans. So, there’s no sensible answer to your question, I’m afraid.
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