In a study of homes with both pets, more than half of owners say their cat has lashed out threateningly at their dog. Picture: Supplied

London - It is a classic comedy image - a growling dog chasing a terrified cat up a tree.

But that is actually an unlikely scenario, researchers say.

For cats are much more likely than dogs to be doing the harassing, a study shows.

It turns out that moggies are far bigger bullies than their canine rivals. They expect to be boss, as any cat owner will tell you, and this applies even when there is a dog in the home.

So while dogs may be descended from wolves, with loud barks and fearsome teeth, they are likely to be bullied if they live with a cat.

In a study of homes with both pets, more than half of owners say their cat has lashed out threateningly at their dog.

Yet fewer than one in five have seen their dog menace their cat. About 56.5 percent said their cat had threatened their dog, compared with 18 percent whose dog had threatened the cat.

And although cats are typically smaller than dogs, they still manage to inflict injury on their domestic rivals. Almost a tenth of owners reported their cat had injured the dog, but fewer than one percent said their dog had harmed the cat.

The findings come from a study of almost 750 owners, who overwhelmingly believe cat is king.

While dogs and cats can live together amicably, they said, it is rarely a "close relationship" – and whether they get on at all is mainly up to the cat. Cats that are frequently uncomfortable around dogs were less likely to form an amicable relationship, they added.

Study co-author Dr Sophie Hall, of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: "On the face of it, these results suggest that the cat is the kingpin in a household with dogs. They are the princess and the dog is lower down in the hierarchy.

"It may be that cats’ threatening acts are more obvious to owners, as they hiss or strike out with their paws at a dog. But it may also be the case that cats are less domesticated in their behaviours. It is important to note that these findings are the owners’ perceptions of their pets’ relationships, but it seems that the cat has to be happy and content, rather than the dog, for them to live happily together."

The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, said that cats and dogs may get along better if the cat is younger when they begin sharing a space.