Dogs and cats are often characterized in cartoons and childrens books as mortal enemies. They are often shown as running, chasing, or trying to outwit the other. And yet, in real life they can actually learn to live together in the right circumstance. Most dogs, however, do not seem to be overly fond of cats and typically bark or chase after them.
It is hard to guess what dogs think of cats. But they most likely see them as curious creatures and possible prey. Unless a dog was raised with a cat, it is unlikely that a dog thinks of a cat as a friend or member of his pack. A dog who has had a run-in with a cat, been scratched, or hissed at may become fearful of them.
Are Cats and Dogs Natural-Born Mortal Enemies?
Myths and Tall Tales
Dogs and cats do not necessarily hate each other. It is a myth passed down through stories and cartoons, as in the iconic Tom and Jerry Cartoon series. Just about every episode pitted Spike the Bulldog against Tom the Cat. See the cute clip below of the two clashing while Tom engages in his eternal attempt to catch Jerry the Mouse.
Cats May Not Be Enemy Number 1, But Dogs Are Not Necessarily Fond of Them
Regardless of the myths, however, it is true that dogs and cats do not seem to get along that well. Hence, veterinary clinics, grooming facilities, and kennels have separate canine and feline areas. Dogs bark and growl at cats as something they do not like or understand. Unfortunately, what begins as a mild curiosity can escalate into an aggressive chase around the block.
Cats, who are usually smaller than dogs, may become startled when encountering a dog. A dog, who is naturally curious about a cat, may allow its prey instinct to kick in if the cat jumps and runs off. What may start as an intriguing encounter can soon become a frenzied chase.
Dogs Seem to Enjoy Chasing Cats
You can lower your dog’s reactivity and aggressiveness toward a cat by stopping your dog from chasing them! Once dogs have felt the thrill of chasing them down the street, they will want to do it again. Please look at my story about the time my dogs took off after the neighbor’s cat (How to Stop Your Dog from Chasing Your Neighbor’s Cat). It was hard to break them of the habit.
Our neighborhood has several cats, which can set my dogs off as we walk to the local park. I sometimes need to put my dogs in a down-stay position to calm them. Or I might quickly turn around to head in the opposite direction. Cats are also predatory animals, but they may be the prey in their relationship with dogs!
Scientists speculate that dogs were domesticated between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago and have been hanging out with humans ever since. Therefore, most dogs tend to relate better to people than other animals, especially those of another species.
Despite being domesticated for thousands of years, dogs still retain much of their original instincts inherited from their ancestors, gray wolves. As a result, dogs still have a hunter instinct and remain alert to other, smaller animals. Wolves only hunted larger animals such as elk, bison, or deer if they worked in large hunting groups. But usually, single wolves hunted smaller prey such as beavers, fish, rabbits, or squirrels.
Therefore, whenever dogs see a smaller animal scurrying or swimming around, they instinctively see it as prey. My Beagles used to hunt down and kill small mice. Mice would frequently visit our large property in Arizona from a nearby field. To my dismay, my Beagles brought the dead mice to me and dropped them by my feet as a “gift“!
Dogs Know that Cats are Not Dogs
Even when raised around cats or kittens, dogs understand that cats are not dogs. Often they are merely curious about them, as they act and communicate differently. Cats are less social than dogs and have different habits and lifestyles. They look different and meow, hiss, or screech rather than bark, growl, or howl.
For example, when a dog wags his tail, he is usually happy or excited about something. When a cat moves his tail, he may be on high alert and ready to pounce on something for his dinner! Dog greetings are different from cats, who will stare and observe. Dogs like to sniff butts to say hello, but a cat finds this invasive. He may whack the sniffer on his nose with sharp claws extended!
Dogs May Fear Cats
My dog Georgia has a lot of Pug DNA. She often gets agitated and fearful of things that go bump in the night in her backyard. We have a lot of stray cats, skunks, and rodents who hang out in the alley next to our fence.
Georgia charges out the doggie door every night around 9pm and barks her head off. She is not that big at 34 pounds and 13″ high. So, it is kind of cute when she tries to make her yip, yip barking seem ferocious.
She seems to be guarding and protecting our property, but she also seems a little bit fearful of these critters. I don’t blame her for being a little afraid of cats. The time she chased our neighbor’s cat, she was hissed at and scratched on the nose. She did not have any serious damage (unlike my poor neighbor’s cat, whom she bit on the face), but it seemed to shake her up.
Most dogs who tangle with cats usually end up being scratched or bitten as the cat tries to defend itself. The best way to handle this is to desensitize and counter-train your dog not to react to cats. Neutralize the fear of threat through distraction and avoidance using commands and high-value treats.
Dogs Can Be Trained to Tolerate and Even Accept Cats as Part of the Family Pack
Cats are more independent and nocturnal and do not have the same pack mentality as dogs. In fact, cats are more likely to ignore or only tolerate a dog in the household. This is unlike a dog, who is often friendly and tries to socialize.
Despite the feline and cannine differences, it is possible for dogs and cats to live together in harmony. The relationships can range from mere toleration to best friends forever depending on their temperments and conditioning.
Make sure that you integrate your pets slowly. Your dog’s instinct will be to chase the cat. This will probably terrify your cat, who will run away and hide. Give each animal their own safe space with closed doors. Let them get used to the smells and sounds of each other. Eventually, a pet gate or screen can be placed in the doorway to let them see each other.
When you allow them each into the same room with one another, keep your dog on a leash. You do not want him to try to bite, chase or otherwise terrify your cat. Allow your cat plenty of space to run off if frightened. It may take several weeks for them to adjust, but over time they should be able live together in harmony. See this post at AKC.org that breaks out the steps to teach dogs and cats to live together.
In Some Cases Puppies and Kittens Can Bond and Become Best Pals
Sometimes, canines and felines can bond when living together in a stressful situation or when raised together from birth. They assume they are part of the same family when raised together as kittens and puppies. They may recognize their differences, but it does not seem to impact their relationship.
Strays on the street may learn to depend upon each other for survival and comfort and become closely bonded. This can even happen in some shelter situations. See this sweet video about a bonded pair who were raised together, but then had to be rehomed.
Given the right circumstance, diverse creatures such as dogs and cats can learn to live together and regard each other as family. But just as with humans, our pets can be fearful of others they do not understand. Fortunately, a multi-species family can usually learn to be one harmonious, loving pack given time, patience, and love!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.