We’ll spend $60 billion on our companion animals this year. More than half of us would rather be trapped on a desert island with our cat or dog than with a human companion. And in the last couple of decades, pets have earned the right to inherit money, be rescued from natural disasters, and even be given their own lawyers in some cases. How did we get to this point, and what happens next?

That’s what I explore in my new, critically acclaimed book, Citizen Canine, out in paperback today. An awarding-winning journalist at Science, I trace the journey of dogs and cats from wild animals to family members, exploring how our relationship with them has changed over thousands of years and what the future may hold. The book covers a variety of topics—everything from how our pets think, to how much we should spend on veterinary care, to whether cats and dogs should have legal rights. From science to history to law, I know just about everything there is to know about dogs and cats. Ask me anything!

Proof: https://twitter.com/David_Grimm/status/613345763171651584

Thank you all for your great questions! Be sure to check out the book, now out in paperback!

Comments: 850 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

IlikePez177 karma

Why does my cat ALWAYS have to go to the bathroom with me. If I don't let her in, she flips her shit like there is some sort of "Potty Party" that she's going to miss out on. Then she wants to be petted while I'm trying to poo. It's an odd way to live man. Why does she DO that?

Jellybean plotting evil.

david_grimm121 karma

Wow, I've never heard of that. When our cats were kittens, they wouldn't go to the bathroom unless we were watching them--which is kind of the opposite of your situation. She's probably just taking advantage of a time where you're forced to keep petting her because you're, um, stuck. :-)

Frajer150 karma

do you think that we get more from pets or they get more from us either physically or emotionally?

david_grimm231 karma

Great question. Honestly, I think it's a pretty even exchange. Pets get to be on permanent vacation and have their every whim and need catered to (at least the lucky ones), and we get companions that provide unconditional love. Pets may also provide us with health benefits like lower anxiety and blood pressure. I think we both make out like bandits!

Raven14134 karma

What do you think should be done about breed standards that are propagating unhealthy traits for aesthetic reasons? There is so much scientific literature that points out the genetic basis of things like brachycephalic syndrome, yet nothing seems to change with the (majority of) breeders.

david_grimm203 karma

I'm not a huge fan of breeding. I think we should appreciate dogs (and cats) for what they are, not for what we can turn them into. I'd also like to see more people adopting pets than buying them from breeders. More than 3 million unwanted cats and dogs are killed in U.S. shelters every year.

Soccerthrowawaying116 karma

Why do humans give their affection to cats and dogs and not pigs or cows?

david_grimm154 karma

Great question. There are millions of animals on earth, and dozens of domesticated animals. Yet we've largely singled out just two--cats and dogs--to be our family members. I think it may have something to do with the adaptability of cats and dogs, and the fact that they think a lot like we do. As a result, it's easier for us to form emotional bonds with them.

katlover99977 karma

Why does it seem like everything we know about cats is based on rumor and innuendo but there's a new study on dog brains every week?

david_grimm131 karma

Great question! I wrote a piece for Slate on this very issue last year (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/04/cat_intelligence_and_cognition_are_cats_smarter_than_dogs.html)

There are about a dozen labs around the world studying the canine mind, but almost no one is studying cats. For my book, I scoured the world to find someone--anyone--who studies the feline mind, and all I came up with was one scientist in Italy who usually studies fish, but who did one experiment (on counting ability) in cats. Fish, he told me, are easier to work with than cats.

And that's the crux of the problem: dogs don't mind being in a lab and doing tricks for experiments--heck, they love it. But cats don't want to be anywhere near a lab. So unfortunately, that's preventing us from knowing much about how their minds work. But hopefully advances in scientific techniques (like MRI imaging) may eventually help us shed light on the feline mind.

Spoooooooooooooky73 karma

All the neighborhood cats shit in my moms garden. She is not that mobile so she cant do anything about it. How do I train these cats to take a dump somewhere else?

david_grimm54 karma

I would talk to the owners. We let our cats outside, but try to keep them from excreting anywhere they shouldn't. We should be responsible for our cats outdoors like we are for our dogs outdoors.

Tostrapa61 karma

What is the country in the world that is the most advanced in terms of cats and dogs' legal rights and why ?

david_grimm83 karma

I believe other countries have classified animals as "sentient beings", while they're still "property" in the U.S. But I haven't heard of cases of dogs getting lawyers or federal laws impelling rescue agencies to save cats and dogs outside of the U.S.

SmallFemale24 karma

But what about those states that still allow cats to be declawed? :(

david_grimm56 karma

Declawing is a hot-button issue. Several cities (and I believe some states) have bans or are planning bans. Some vets argue against these bans, noting that it's better for a cat to be missing his claws than to be abandoned at a shelter. We've also seen bans on debarking and tail docking for dogs.

FarseedTheRed58 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. My family likes to adopt shelter rescue animals when it's time for a new family pet. The pet's demeanor often changes from sad and defeated to playful and engaged. Sometimes we swear they are "thankful" for us because after they settle in to new surroundings they are often overly affectionate and submissive. Is that human projection, or can cats and dogs truly express complex emotions about their change? What are some intriguing ways that our pets have come to be more attuned to being human companions and not simply human property?

david_grimm59 karma

Dogs have lived with us for up to 30,000 years; cats, about 10,000. I think in this time they have evolved to become more attuned to our emotions. In fact, a recent study (http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2015/04/how-dogs-stole-our-hearts) showed that dogs activate the same hormonal response in us that human infants do. So I do think both animals are capable of complex emotions.

Teleia2157 karma

I have a cat that insists on rubbing her face on our faces. What does this mean with a cat?

david_grimm95 karma

The cat is marking you as his/her own. Be honored!

bebidoo57 karma

How can I get my asshole of a cat to stop meowing at night?

david_grimm33 karma

Haha! I wish I knew. Our cats got us up at 2:30 am last night.

nativeunicorn57 karma

What is your views on the hostility some cultures are facing for eating animals that other cultures consider pets?

david_grimm131 karma

Good question. I do think there's some hypocrisy in giving other cultures a hard time for killing dogs and cats, when we kill chickens and cows. (and i'm saying this as someone who's not a vegetarian... although i'm trying).

zomgother53 karma

cats or dogs?

david_grimm169 karma

Ha! Well I'm a cat person, but I love dogs too. I think we get different things from each pet. Dogs are faithful companions who become like our children. Cats let us bring a bit of the wild into our homes--they allow us to caress the tiger, as someone once said--but they are also "love sponges", as Ernest Hemmingway called them. Why chose? Get both! :-)

iamtheantichristie43 karma

Hi David, [serious question:] My roommate's ginger cat, a male who has no noted aversion to male humans, would poo the world's smelliest poo every time my ginger boyfriend entered the apartment. Is this a coincidence? Was he put off by no longer being the only ginger male in the apartment? Or perhaps had he taken a liking to me and realized this human was about to draw away my attention so he needed to make sure we all knew how displeased he was?

david_grimm54 karma

It sounds like the cat may have been asserting dominance. Some cats won't bury their poop in their litter box as a sign to other cats in the house that they're in charge.

dreamcasting38 karma

What are your thoughts on dog owners who flaunt flout leash laws because their dog is "perfectly behaved" or similar sentiment?

david_grimm72 karma

We have that problem in our neighborhood. The issue is that these owners don't know how their dogs are going to react to cats or children, and I've been involved in situations where dogs lunged at both (my cats and my toddlers). So I think all dogs owners should err on the side of caution and leash their pets.

Spoonsy37 karma

What would you say about a pitbull in a Manhattan apartment?

david_grimm77 karma

I think we should love our pets, but also respect their needs. A big dog needs big space, and if it lives in a small apartment it should at least be allowed to go outside a few times a day.

aStoryWorthTelling34 karma

Are you and your brother going to write the 8th edition any time soon?

david_grimm40 karma

It never gets old :-)

katlover99932 karma

Do you think primates should have more rights/legal protection than our pets?

david_grimm63 karma

That's a timely question. As you may know, the Nonhuman Rights Project, headed by animal lawyer Steve Wise, is pushing for chimpanzee "personhood" in new york. (http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2015/04/judge-s-ruling-grants-legal-right-research-chimps) Wise argues that chimps (and dolphins and elephants) are so cognitively advanced that they should be granted some human-like rights. But others argue that we should reserve rights for animals that we already treat like people--i.e. dogs and cats. And we've certainly seen dogs and cats get more rights (if you want to call them that) than chimps: dogs have gotten lawyers in 3 recent court cases, pets can inherit money, and felony anticruelty laws tend to be harshest for those who abuse dogs and cats.

And then there are those, of course, who say no animals should have rights.

CMAuGaming30 karma

So, what do you think about the Yulin Dog Festival?

david_grimm46 karma

It's obviously horrific for those of us who love animals to see them treated this way. If you oppose the festival, there are many animal welfare groups trying to stop it. I encourage you to support those organizations.

cjhilinski27 karma

The obvious question: residential dog breed restrictions. Warranted? Misguided? Unwarranted?

david_grimm76 karma

Unwarrented. I did a lot of research on this for my book, and breed restrictions tend to be misguided. For one thing, most of the problem appears to lie with the owner (neglecting or mistreating the pet), not the dog. For another, these bans are hard to enforce--"pit bull" isn't a recognized breed, for example, and DNA tests usually show it's a different breed than what people thought. Some studies have also shown that these bans can be counterproductive.

iwroteyoualoveletter25 karma

A feral cat takes a dump right outside my door sometimes. Right on the damn doorstep. Our theory is that he thinks we're holding one of his friends captive (we rescued a street cat from the area) and is pooping in protest. Do you know why a feral cat would torture us so?

david_grimm41 karma

My guess is that he's trying to get the attention of the other cat. If you have the time and the resources, I'd consider trapping him and getting him neutered. That may solve the problem.

iwroteyoualoveletter9 karma


On a more serious note, what was your favorite part about writing and researching for your book? It sounds really interesting!

david_grimm17 karma

Getting to travel so many places and meet so many interesting people. I traveled to about 15 places for the book--including Los Angeles to ride along with LAPD's animal cruelty task force, and Wolf Park, IN, where i got to interact with gray wolves.

Mantisbog21 karma

My cat keeps kneading my stomach. Will he ever succeed in getting it to produce milk?

david_grimm16 karma

I hope not!

ofthe5thkind13 karma

Canine behavior has changed drastically from their wolf-roots due to selective breeding, etc. Cats, on the other hand, seem to behave just like African Wildcats and other felines.

My question: Is there really such a thing as a domestic cat? Or do we just call them "domestic" because we let them live in our homes?

david_grimm21 karma

Great question! I'm about to write a piece for Slate on this very topic. Stay tuned!

But short answer: yes, cats are as domestic as any other animal.

ismellliketuna12 karma

I'm gonna be asking this girl out and she's a cat person while I'm a dog person and I know you don't have a crystal ball ....do you think it can work based on our preferred companions ?

david_grimm35 karma

Absolutely. I don't think cat people and dogs people are as different as the stereotypes suggest. In fact, many households have both pets. What you have in common is your love for animals. I think that should take you pretty far. :-)

hyperproliferative10 karma

Some have said, after studying the history of canid domestication, that without dogs civilization would not have come so far so fast. For example, the selfless pack animal will hunt and gather food, and then share it. What are you thoughts on the validity of such a statement?

david_grimm22 karma

Yes, some have said that we wouldn't be here without dogs. I think there's some truth to that, as dogs made us more successful hunters and herders. They may have even helped us out-compete Neandertals, according to some theories. But cats may have also made us what we are today, by protecting our grain stores and protecting us from disease.

pintamoo8139 karma

I'm very excited that you're doing this AMA. I'm actually studying the child - animal bond for my Masters degree and looking at how companion animals can help foster empathy and prosociality. There are many recent studies suggesting a link between having animals in the home and a greater understanding and respect of animals. What do you think about this evolving area of research?

I will be picking up your book as well. I'm very excited to read this!

david_grimm14 karma

Thanks for your question. Yes, I do think that having pets increases our empathy for all creatures. I think one of the reason we're so pro-animal welfare in this country is because of our cats and dogs!

SmallFemale9 karma

At Christmas my brother unfortunately had to give his cats away due to him moving back home with my parents. Do you think they will still miss and remember him? :(

david_grimm51 karma

I wish there weren't so many stories like this--people giving up pets that have grown attached to them. Yes, I do think our pets miss us. For my book, I visited a jail in Colorado where the inmates spoke of their cats and dogs snuggling into their old clothing while they were behind bars. I think we should absolutely try to avoid abandoning our pets if at all possible.

one2ohmygodddd7 karma

Hi David, thanks for being here. This is a sort of weird ontological debate about cats that me and my brother have been having for a while. Do cats know they're cats? Do they think of humans as big cats, or of themselves as little people? In what ways does this sense of being affect their behavior?

david_grimm14 karma

I think John Bradshaw discusses this in his recent book, Cat Sense. But bottom line: Cats don't see us a big cats. They see as as big, unpredictable apes. But they're mostly cool with it.

nnutcase6 karma

I haven't been following this as much in the past few years, but you're an expert! What is some of the newest, most interesting and groundbreaking research on dog and cat evolution and domestication that you're aware of?

david_grimm12 karma

Well, I hate to be self-serving (actually, I don't really--that's why i'm here!), but I've rounded all of it up in my book. Check it out!


nnutcase7 karma

Is there anything so new that it didn't make it into your book?

david_grimm13 karma

fahrnfahrnfahrn6 karma

Do dogs feel and express guilt? I read once that they didn't, but I know better.

david_grimm11 karma

Good question. I talk about this in my book. A study that came out a few years ago suggested that the "guilty look" given by dogs isn't a true expression of guilt. But that doesn't mean dogs don't feel guilt--we just haven't found a good way to measure it.

fahrnfahrnfahrn5 karma

Case on point. I came downstairs once to see my dog slinking, head down walking perpendicular to my path. I then see that he had gotten into the trash. What was going on? Fear of punishment? Guilt?

david_grimm14 karma

yea, that sounds like the "guilty look". but whether he really felt guilty is unclear.

bobohead19885 karma

Hey David,

What are you opinions on Cesar Millan's advice on being the pack leader to help maintain order in a house ?

I have a big german shepard and his advices did help me but I was wondering if there are 2nd opinions about this method

david_grimm11 karma

I don't have strong feelings, but some people have said that dogs are no more like wolves than we're like chimpanzees. Dogs have lived with us for somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years. That's a long time for co-evolution!

rootwinterguard5 karma

What's the best argument you've every heard in favor of denying domesticated animals more rights?

david_grimm14 karma

At least for cats and dogs: that it would make pet ownership more onerous and thus scare people away from adoption.

Kimmer375 karma

Hi there! I have a German Shepherd mix with Red Heeler pup. We think he was taken from his mom too young. He bites, not hard but enough to freak people out. I scold him when he does with a harsh "No!" and give him all the praise and love I can when he doesn't but nothing seems to be working. Do you have any advice for me?

david_grimm7 karma

I know a ton about cats and dogs, but not so much on the training side. It might be time to consult a professional trainer.

Jerin_acob4 karma

Do you agree killing street dogs? Is there any other way?

david_grimm20 karma

Yes, spay/neuter. Some groups are also working on an injectable contraceptive: http://www.acc-d.org/

AdvertisingDoosh3 karma

Do you feel that thousands of dollars are better spent on keeping a cat alive, than instead saving many, many human lives with that money?

david_grimm43 karma

I think we all spend our money on things that are important to us, whether it be big screen TVs, or vacations, or our pets. I don't think we should feel guilty about saving a life, whether it be animal or human.

puzzles_thebar3 karma

Do cats have "packs" like dogs?

david_grimm6 karma

Feral cats sometimes hang out in large groups. But dogs are definitely more of a pack animal.

puzzles_thebar2 karma

A follow up! Do you have any idea what cats think when we meow at them? Are we in anyway actually communicating or are we just making a noise at them?

david_grimm4 karma

I think it's just noise. I don't think we can speak cat. :)

cryptocasual2 karma

What is your opinion on breeders and breeding? My sister has a German Shephard who is his own grandpa's cousin's niece's uncle's sister because breeders disregard generics entirely just to make the dog they want.

david_grimm2 karma

please see my response below

D_Trox1 karma

Morgan Freeman, aka God, told me (& everyone else) on his Through the Wormhole show, that cats are the one species that domesticated themselves. Is this true?

david_grimm4 karma

Yes, cats domesticated themselves. At least that's what scientists think. They came into early farming villages to hunt rodents, and realized if they were well behaved humans would keep them around.

Interestingly, dogs may have also domesticated themselves. Some wolves, it's thought, got more food by cozying up to hunting-gathereing humans. Later, we domesticated dogs further by breeding them for specific tasks.