I Was Wrong

Part of being a scientist is following the data no matter where they lead. Sometimes, that ends up requiring you to admit you have been wrong about something. No matter how painful that admission may be, it is a necessary part of being a good scientist. If the data speak, the scientist must listen. I regret to inform my readers that the data have spoken, and something I have believed in for some time has been demonstrated to be quite wrong. While it might be painful for you to read, believe me, it is more painful for me to write:

Cats are not more elegant than dogs, at least not when it comes to the way they drink!

In case you don’t remember the piece I wrote on this, here is what I said:

I have always been a cat lover. It’s not that I don’t like dogs; I do. In fact, I have one friend who says his dog misses me for a while every time I leave his home. Nevertheless, when it comes to what pets I want to have in my home, cats win over dogs every time. I have always found cats more… well… elegant than dogs. Now, a new study confirms this is true, at least when it comes to how they drink.

In the post, I discussed a study that showed the physical mechanism by which cats drink and compared it to the mechanism by which dogs drink. My conclusion was clear: cats are simply more elegant than dogs in many ways, including the way they drink.

Well, it turns out that I was wrong.

In the June 18, 2011 edition of Science News, I read this startling fact:1

Canines toss water into their mouths just like feline rivals

Indeed, it seems that some dog lovers were put off by the results of the cat study, so they did a similar study on dogs, and they found that dogs utilize nearly the same mechanism. Here is what the study reveals:2

It has recently been suggested that the mechanism for lifting liquid from a bowl into the oral cavity during lapping is fundamentally different in cats and dogs: cats use adhesion of liquid to the tongue tip while dogs ‘scoop’ with their backwardly curled tongue. High-speed light videos and X-ray videos show that on the contrary, both cats and dogs use the mechanism of adhesion.

So I was wrong. I admit it. Please don’t hate me for it.

Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest!


1. Susan Milius, “Hey Kitty, Dogs Do Drink Like Cats,” Science News, June 18, 2011, p. 8.
Return to Text

2. 1. A. W. Crompton and Catherine Musinsky, “How dogs lap: ingestion and intraoral transport in Canis familiaris,” Biology Letters, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0336, 2011.
Return to Text


  1. Jason Roehl says:

    We’ve all see the stroboscopic photos of cats lapping water or milk, and they all show the cat’s tongue curled under while fully extended into the liquid.

    I’ve had a cat or cats since a couple weeks after I got married over 16 years ago. I’ve noticed when they decide to lick my face that their tongues are very rough, but the “sharpness” of their tongues is pointed towards their throat, kind of like snake’s fangs. I’ve always wondered if that physical geometry of their tongue helps hold liquid on the tongue, then maybe even squirt it farther in their mouth once they straighten their tongue, causing the sharp “tastebud peaks”, if you will, to lay flat and displace the water rearward.

    What do you think?

    P.S. I’m of the same mindset you are when it comes to cats vs. dogs–I prefer cats for indoor pets. If I had more land, I would probably also have a dog or two, but cats in many ways are lower maintenance. (You couldn’t leave a dog alone in your house for 5 days while you went away, that’s for sure!)

    1. jlwile says:

      Jason, I do think the geometry is important. The scientific paper on cat lapping seems to indicate that. It says, “Inside the mouth, cavities between the palate’s rugae and the tongue act as a nonreturn device and trap liquid until it is ingested every 3 to 17 cycles.” So the tongue seems to be shaped to trap water against the palate.

      To me, the point at which cats clearly show their superiority is when someone comes over to visit. Dogs go nuts, making the entire affair annoying. Cats generally just leave.

  2. Vivielle says:

    Well, I always knew that dogs are just as wonderful as cats. (Serious dog lover here, although I do also like cats.)

    Nope, I don’t hate you admitting you were wrong. Now if you hadn’t admitted it, I still wouldn’t hate you as that seems rather strong, but I certainly would have respected you less.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks, Vivielle. I can understand why you love dogs. I have always agreed with the phrase, “Dogs have masters, while cats have staff.”

  3. Sean says:

    No doubt the similar mechanism for drinking is the result of evolution 😛

    1. jlwile says:

      Of course, Sean! There couldn’t possibly be any other explanation…

  4. Jonathan says:

    I think that cats are still superior in personality.

    Also, cats always land on their feet when they fall, thanks to conservation of angular momentum. (Dogs just wag their tails…)

    1. jlwile says:

      I agree, Jonathan!

  5. Amanda Read says:

    “To me, the point at which cats clearly show their superiority is when someone comes over to visit. Dogs go nuts, making the entire affair annoying. Cats generally just leave.”

    HAHAHA! Reminds me of our Lab/Shepherd mix dog, Rex. I didn’t know it was possible to be as crazy about human beings as he is.

    Our cats are only excessively friendly when people LEAVE the house…they wait at the doorstep, anticipating some tasty token of appreciation.

    ~ Amanda

    1. jlwile says:

      So true, Amanda!

  6. The Black Sheep says:

    “Dogs go nuts, making the entire affair annoying.”

    So wait, those times you’ve been laying on the floor playing with my dogs (I have photographic evidence) 10 seconds after walking in the door…. that was just annoying to you?

    1. jlwile says:

      Lol, Black Sheep, of course not. I enjoy that kind of thing. The problem is that dogs do it regardless of whether or not the visitor enjoys it!

  7. Miranda says:

    Dr. Wile, I laughed out loud when I read that last line! I think plenty of us would have quite a bit of trouble hating you for being wrong (especially having admitted it, which shows character). 🙂
    I love cats and dogs, and I’m certainly glad to hear that dogs aren’t less “elegant” than cats.. on that level, anyway. 😀 God’s creation is awesome!

    1. jlwile says:

      I am glad you enjoyed the post, Miranda! God’s creation is awesome!

%d bloggers like this: