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Have you ever spotted female cats grooming each other? Or male dogs humping? You might have wondered if cats and dogs exhibit a clear preference for same-sex behavior. In other words can dogs or cats be gay?
First of all, these are slightly misleading questions because the answer depends on both speculation and anthropomorphism on our part. We can observe same-sex behaviors in many animal species. But we don’t necessarily know whether that is down to sexual attraction.
Russell Hartstein Certified Dog Behaviorist and Trainer in Los Angeles and founder of Fun Paw Care explains anthropomorphism as “ascribing our human life, for example behaviors, concepts, thoughts, norms, traditions, feelings, experiences, attributes, and more to other species.” When considering whether or not cats and dogs can be gay, it’s tempting to explain their behavior through a lens of our own human understanding.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the science behind whether or not cats and dogs can be gay.
Behavior Doesn’t Equal Sexual Orientation
We’ll consider dogs and cats shortly. But first, what do we mean by sexual identity, orientation, and behavior?
Joey Lusvardi, cat behavior consultant at Class Act Cats says “it’s important separate out sexual identity and sexual behavior in humans. Identity is how one views themselves and may include terms like gay, lesbian, straight, and another similar descriptors. Behavior doesn’t always perfectly line up with one’s identity. People may have sexual encounters with a same-sex partner, but still identify as straight.”
“The behavior is separate from the identity as it may be an isolated sexual encounter or there may internalized stigma. Regardless of the reasoning, the important point is that people’s behavior may differ from how they see themselves. When referring to people’s sexual identity, ask them how they identify before applying a label such as ‘gay’. That may not be how the person identifies.”
The main issue when discussing whether or not our pets can be gay is that we can’t ask them. “Even if we see a cat or dog engaging in behavior with another animal of the same sex, we can’t really know that they are gay because we can’t ask them. We can describe the behavior, but the pet may be engaging in it for other reasons besides sexual attraction.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of those behaviors.
Does Humping Another Dog Mean My Dog Is Gay?
Seeing your dog humping other dogs of the same sex may raise questions about same-sex attraction. But there can be other explanations less obvious than the surface level.
Humping is “a natural and healthy behavior for dogs,” says Hartstein. You might see your dog humping another dog, someone’s leg, a stuffed toy, or a pillow. There can be many reasons for this — including play, stress release, boredom, excess energy, and — yes — sex. If your dog’s humping is sexually motivated, then neutering can reduce this behavior because it reduces levels of testosterone. Even though sexual attraction isn’t always the motivation behind humping, it’s sometimes tempting to use that label as an “easy” way to explain it.
Debunking Other Same-Sex Behaviors
Humping aside, are there other pet behaviors that point to same-sex attraction?
What about if you see your cats or dogs of the same sex cuddled up sleeping together? “This is very common and doesn’t mean they are sexually interested in one another,” said Hartstein. Cats and dogs sleep together for all sorts of reasons. Warmth, comfort, and a strong bond are just some of these! Many of the same reasons that many pet parents love sharing their beds with their pets, in fact!
Cats often groom each other or their pet parents, and sometimes dogs do too. Grooming doesn’t necessarily equal sexual attraction. Dogs may lick each others’ faces for all kinds of reasons, including as a display of deference, play, or affection.
“Cats will mutually groom preferred members of the same species as a totally non-sexual bonding behavior known as an affiliative behavior,” explains Lusvardi. (Also known as allogrooming.) “Cats will also rub against preferred associates as a way to mix pheromones and display affection, but it’s not usually a sexual behavior.”
“In fact, the cute little head bumps your cat may give you, known as bunting, are just a way of leaving your scent on you because they like you! We might interpret these as being sexual because we often aren’t that physically intimate with most other humans unless we also have a sexual interest in them. With other species, the intention behind the action may not be the same even if the behavior looks similar.”
Do Any Animals Have Same Sex Attraction?
It’s not just dogs and cats, though. Several different animal species display same-sex behaviors. One well-known example is a male pair of Humboldt Penguins living at Wingham Wildlife Park in the United Kingdom. These penguins formed a pair-bond in 2014 and successfully incubated and hatched an abandoned egg.
In his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diveristy, author Bruce Bagemihl notes that same-sex behavior can be seen in over 450 different animal species, including penguins, giraffes, and lizards. This ranges from co-parenting, to mounting, and long-term relationships.
Animal researchers prefer the term homosexual rather than gay, lesbian, and other terms. Such words should be reserved for human behavior. Applying them to animals can reinforce anthropomorphism.
Is this behavior truly “gay”? That’s unproven at the moment.
Can Animals be Gay? Forget the Label
Sexuality is complex… and it’s not always a good idea to compare or project our concept of sexuality onto our pets. While we can observe the behavior of our cats and dogs — when we see them grooming each other, for example — we can’t always understand the motivation or reason behind it.
Instead of assuming our pet’s motivations, and anthropomorphising their behavior, we can take a leaf out of their book. Our pets don’t worry about their sexual orientation, which means we shouldn’t either. And because we can’t know for sure, we should not try to deter our pets from harmless behaviors. And we should never punish our pets for behaving a certain way, as this can cause all sorts of other behavioral and emotional problems.
As Lusvardi says, “we don’t need to put a label on our pet’s behavior to appreciate the incredible variety of behavior in the animal kingdom!”