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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Act Like A Dog?

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One thing is for sure: cats are cats, and they possess distinctive feline traits that have developed over years of evolution. We expect a certain aloofness from our cats. Cats are tiny, solitary hunters, evidenced by their survival need for meat. They are obligate carnivores. A few other things about cats have not changed so much since they first moved in with our ancestors to help keep vermin out of the livestock food. Cats recognized our value then, and they still see it today. We are an excellent source of resources that make survival much easier.

Being a cat has worked out really well for cats, so why is it that some of them seem to act like dogs?  It is decidedly “un-catlike,” but some of them certainly do it.  These odd balls will fetch items, come when they are called, and learn commands. Cat lovers are amused, but still they wonder: why do some cats act like dogs?

The answer probably lies in the basic craftiness of the cat.  She and her ancestors have always seen the utility of having a human or two as companions. Adapt and prevail is the mantra of the cat.  She saw a chance to live as a prized addition to our prey-rich environments.  We had warm barns for our livestock and easy access to other resources, almost like breakfast in bed.  She would be crazy to miss this kind of chance.

Nowadays, we don’t worry quite too much about vermin, but the cat still remains as our prized friend. She has had to adapt further.  She now realizes that making you happy is good for her, too.  She comes when you call and you stroke and feed her. Her behavior is rewarded and she learns.

Your cat has a toy and you seem interested. He catches it and brings it to share and you seem pleased and interact positively with him.  Again, behavior reinforced.  You toss it. He brings it back and there is more reinforcement. Surprise, you have accidentally trained your cat to fetch!

Whether you mean to or not, your cat learns your voice and call. When you call her, she comes and you cuddle and feed her.  You are fairly consistent with these rewards since you feed her every day and she has learned that even at other times, if she rubs on you and leads you to her bowl, you may fill it again.

Your call, your toys, and your attention are all associated with positive feelings for your cat.  Her brain tells her that when you are happy, she is happy. Even if you did not mean to teach your cat to act like a dog, you probably did. Some cats even have actual canine friends to model after. Whether you have trained your cat to act like a dog or your cat has trained you to do what she wants when she acts like a dog, I guess it depends on who you ask.  And our cats just aren’t talking!

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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