If you've ever had a pet, you may have wondered if your dog or cat can be gay. You may have seen your dog mount another pup at the dog park — or watched as your cat seemed only to groom her female litter mates while ignoring her brothers. Since house pets don't often couple up with a significant other, these questions may just be speculation. However, when you look at the animal kingdom as a whole, especially those critters who are free to roam around without the confines of a human home, the idea of dogs and cats exhibiting homosexual behavior is something that deserves closer attention.
Studying Same-Sex Behavior in Animals
Same-sex behavior has long been noted in animals of many different species. In 2014, the BBC reported on a pair of male Humboldt penguins who raise orphaned eggs together at a zoo in Kent, England. You may have even noticed your own pet cuddling up to a same-sex pal. But before we can determine whether pets can be gay, we first need to set the baseline for what is considered "gay" in the animal kingdom.
Gay human beings are defined as being sexually attracted to people of the same sex. However, human sexual orientation is famously varied and fluid, and scientists who study the sexual activity of animals urge us not to compare our behavior to our pets' for a variety of reasons.
Can Sexual Behavior Be Misinterpreted?
Can dogs be gay? Can cats be gay? Here's another reason why it's tough to find the answer to these questions: for animals, what's presumed to be a mating behavior may be misinterpreted. For example, both male and female dogs will mount other dogs. While it is possible that some pets do this because they want to engage in sexual activities, there are many other reasons they may be performing that behavior. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA) suggests that mounting is less about sex and more about playing, releasing stress or showing dominance. Also, don't forget that dogs will often mount humans and furniture as well.
PetHelpful notes that male cats (even neutered ones) may also mount their pet parents and other household kitties to show who's boss. Neutering or spaying your pet will often help prevent mounting and other aggressive behaviors. Cats are also known for their grooming skills, and will often lick and sleep cuddled up to other cats. What may seem like sexual behavior to humans may very well be a part of social grooming.
The Jury Is Still Out
While there's been much speculation, there's no scientific evidence of various animals, especially house pets, being gay or not.
"Whether there's any kind of same-sex sexual preference going on, that's left entirely to the imagination in the sense that the data just [doesn't] exist to demonstrate one way or the other," said Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge to the Washington Post. He continues to say that being exclusively gay is "exceptionally rare" in the animal kingdom.
So, if you're curious if your dog or cat is gay, know that there is currently no evidence to support this notion at least in terms that humans are used to defining homosexuality.
Measuring Puppy Love
Scientists often study two things when trying to determine whether animals can be gay: exclusivity and longevity. Exclusivity considers whether these animals are participating in sexual relations only with members of the same sex. A study in the Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology journal found that about 8 percent of rams appear to mate exclusively with other males, but domesticated sheep seem to be the only non-human mammal with deliberate same-sex mating behaviors. Other animals, such as Japanese macaques, bottlenose dolphins and bonobos (one of our closest primate relatives), mate and cuddle with partners of both genders, notes the BBC — exhibiting more fluid behavior that is closer to what we would call bisexuality.
Next, scientists consider longevity when studying same-sex behavior in animals. Female albatrosses, for example, often form lifelong partnerships with other females. But dogs and cats don't tend to engage in any sexual behaviors for long periods of time. Unspayed cats will go into heat several times a year and may attempt to be mounted, rubbed, or licked by another cat, regardless of sex. Because cats and dogs also do not have long-term mates like humans, longevity is often quite difficult to measure.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.