The Emotional Differences Between Cats and Dogs

A Different Bond

While there’s no question that a special bond exists between a pet and his owner, it turns out that the nature of human-dog bonds and human-cat bonds are quite different. It’s easy for us to see this in how our pets interact with us: the loyal, devoted puppy, or the loving but often independent cat.

But now we’ve learned that the bond to humans is perceived differently by our animals as well. Here’s a closer look at why that’s the case!

For most cats, the relationship with their owner is important, but not all-consuming: most cats seem perfectly content to keep their own company for much of the day.  Cats undoubtedly display an attachment to their owners that transcends mere cupboard-love, based as it is on behaviour such as rubbing, purring and licking that are also used to cement bonds between one cat and another.  However, their limited ability to communicate effectively with cats outside their immediate family means that many owners inadvertently place them under significant stress.

Cats do not naturally “get along with” each other, but many owners will obtain a second cat in the belief that it will be “company” for their original cat, only to witness their house being acrimoniously divided into two separate territories.  Even a cat that feels relaxed while in its owner’s home may be terrorised by a neighbour’s cat as soon as it emerges through the cat-flap.

For most dogs, the attachment they feel towards their owner is fundamental to their well-being.  Thousands of years of selection for animals that are biddable and easy to train has ensured that while dogs enjoy one another’s company, they crave human attention.  Unfortunately, they do not appear to have evolved the ability to turn this off at will, so the modern habit of leaving companion dogs alone for hours at a time can cause them considerable distress.  Thankfully, it is possible to train dogs to relax while they are on their own, provided they have not already experienced the cycle of anxiety caused by what they experience as repeated abandonments.

Thus the well-being of both cats and dogs depends critically upon their owners’ perceptions of how they experience that relationship.  For most cats, their owner’s careful and sympathetic management of their interactions with other cats is perhaps more important than the nuances of the relationship they enjoy with their owner.  Dogs, by contrast, feel that relationship with such an intensity that many can only be contented if they are taught how to cope with being left alone. – via Psychology Today

 Brain Matters

When you begin to understand how cats and dogs brains function on a biological level, it can be easier to see why they perceive humans so differently. Let’s take a look at some of the similarities and differences in the brains of cats, dogs, and humans!


As mammals, dogs and cats share a lot of anatomy with humans. Our pets’ brains are similar to ours in a lot of ways, but also have their own specializations that make them unique.

Despite the size differences, the physical structure of cat and human brains are actually very similar. Both species have cerebral cortices with similar lobes specialized to perform different tasks. The brains of cats and humans are both folded on the surface, allowing more brain to fit into a smaller area

Cats have more neurons than dogs perhaps due to the many neurons in the visual areas of feline cerebral cortex. In fact, cats have more neurons devoted to visual processing than humans and most other mammals. However, the number of cerebral cortex neurons in the cat is still dwarfed by the number in humans: an estimated 19-23 billion.

One recent study found that dogs process voice and emotion in a similar way to humans. Inside a scanner, dogs listened to nearly 200 recordings of human and dog sounds, including whining, crying, laughing, and barking. Like humans, dogs have brain systems devoted to interpreting vocal sounds. And in both species, the activity in these regions changed in similar ways depending on the emotional tone of a vocalization, regardless of whether the vocalization came from a dog or a person.

There are also significant differences between the brains of dogs and humans. A major one is the dog’s keen sense of smell and corresponding brain areas devoted to processing odors. Dogs can detect smells in concentrations one hundred-millionth of what humans require to smell an odor. In many ways, they smell the world as richly and in as much detail as we see it.

Dogs may have become man’s best friend in part because of the striking similarities in the way their brains respond to social and emotional cues. Brain scanning experiments are beginning to show how dogs tune in to the feelings of their owners and subtle human social cues, abilities that endear these animals to us as beloved pets. – via braindecoder

Do you have a cat, a dog, or both? What have you noticed about the bond you share with your pet?

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