My pet comes to meet me at the door when I get home. He begs for attention frequently throughout the day. He sniffs my jeans when I have been gone for a few days. He will accept affection from anyone. And he is a cat. He is the most dog-like cat I have ever met.
Cats and dogs are often seen as complete opposites. One is outgoing; the other is reserved. One loves you; the other is indifferent. Dogs like to smell things; cats like to chase things. Yet as I have learned, the truth is that cats and dogs are much more alike in psychology and physiology than we might expect. Curious — like my cat — I did some research.
Neither cats nor dogs are colorblind, but their sight is limited. Humans and cats have three types of color-sensing cone cells in our eyes, but dogs only have two. An online tool called Dog Vision allows you to upload an image that is processed to show you what it looks like through your dog’s eyes — mostly gray, with some muted blues and yellows. Behavioral tests indicate that cats may also see fewer colors than humans, despite having the same number of cone cells.
Our pets shine in the area of smell detection. According to the book “Being a Dog,” by Alexandra Horowitz, a dog has 50 times as many olfactory receptors as a human does, and their brains light up when they smell their humans. Exact numbers differ between breeds, but dogs have around 200 million olfactory neurons, compared with 67 million for cats and only 15 million for humans.
Dogs love to go on “smell walks,” where they have the opportunity to sniff at everything they want to investigate.
However, cats can distinguish between smells much better than dogs can. Cats have thirty variants of the scent- distinguishing protein VR1, compared to nine variants in dogs and only two in humans. Cats cover their waste to hide their scent from predators, but they can also leave it as a message — waste scent communicates information about the cat, such as whether it is male or female. A house cat can get stressed if its home does not have enough scents that the cat likes. This is also why your cat rubs against you and familiar objects in its vicinity. It is putting its signature scent on its territory, marking you as “home” and “family.”
It has been scientifically proven that both cats and dogs love their humans. Both kinds of pets usually prefer their owner’s attention over food or treats, even if they are hungry. Both kinds of pets are attuned to their owner’s moods and can become stressed if the owner is stressed.
Cats can be trained just as dogs can. It is a matter of determining what motivates them, which, like dogs, is usually social interaction and affection. However, not all cats are the same; some prefer socialization, some prefer food, and some prefer toys.
Cats and dogs have different personalities, just like humans. They can get separation anxiety and can be soothed by music and calming smells. Some cats have been stressed during the pandemic due to the inability to rest undisturbed because their owners are home all day.
Understanding why pets act as they do can help owners communicate with them, train them, and treat them. Most of all, it helps them love us back.