Thursday, 4 December 2014

How science shows that dogs are better than cats!

The debate between whether cats or dogs make better pets has been raging for years, I wouldn't be surprised if ancient wars were waged because one emperor was a dog lover and another was a cat lover. Thankfully, scientists have weighed in and have studied what cats and dogs really think of us. 

In one study, scientists trained 12 dogs to lie still in an MRI machine and measured the brain's response to the scents of a familiar human, strange human, familiar dog, strange dog and itself. The method used is called functional magnetic resonance imaging and uses the differences in the magnetic properties of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to look at where oxygenated blood is going to in the brain. An increase in oxygenated blood is thought to indicate an increase in brain activity in that area. They looked at a region of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is highly linked to positive expectations and reward. 

This is part of how they trained the dogs

They found that the biggest response in the caudate nucleus was to the familiar human, which suggests that the dogs value familiar humans even over familiar dogs! The finding that familiar humans are associated more positively than familiar dogs is very interesting and suggests that dogs really do think of their family as their pack. Familiar dogs gave the second strongest response, followed by the unfamiliar dog and human with its own scent giving the smallest reward-like response. This shows that dogs can not only distinguish between familiar and non-familiar, but that the familiarity is linked to a more positive expectation. In other words, dogs actually do really love their owners!

These are thelovely dogs that took part in the study.

On the  other hand, cats have not exhibited any such behaviours, mostly because cats are so much harder to train. It appears that cats just think of us as bigger and stupider cats. Recent interviews from John Bradshaw, renowned cat behaviour expert, have suggested that cat behaviour towards humans is similar to what you might expect from a superior cat, as they are not likely to form such close relationships with other cats (they are solitary rather than the pack mentality of dogs). This suggests that cats might not be so affectionate towards us if there wasn't any advantage. This is evident when you think about cats being fed by multiple families, and there are many cases where a cat will disown one family because another gives it more food. 

There were no relevant cat pictures so here's a cute kitten...

So it looks like science has begun to settle the dispute a little. While both gain an advantage from living with us, it seems like dogs are much more devoted and affectionate (as shown by the reward the get from our scent) than cats who treat us a bit more coldly. Anyone who has spent time with cats and dogs will be immediately familiar with this. 

Let me know what you think. I bet you can't guess where I stand on the argument!


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