Do cats and dogs get along? No, not if you ask almost anyone, including owners of both. So why not? And what can you do to make them co-exist?
How can you make a dog and a cat be friends? Start by picking dog and cat breeds known for being friendly. Ideally introduce the pair when they are both young as this allows the pair to become socialized. Set your household up to be stress-free, and give each pet its own space in a cat-free or dog-free room. Use obedience training to prevent the dog from chasing the cat. Introduce them with a barrier between them like a safety gate for stairs, and keep the dog on a leash during initial meetings. Allow them to meet like this for at least a week before allowing them to meet properly.
The guide below first looks at why cats and dogs don’t like each other. We’ll then look at how to get cats and dogs to get along, with tips on how to introduce them for the first time, how to make kittens and puppies get along as well as older pets, and what to do if they refuse to see eye to eye. Keeping cats and dogs together is possible if you know what you’re doing!
Why Don’t Dogs And Cats Like Each Other?
Everybody around the world knows that cats and dogs dislike each other. Different cultures have different explanations as to why. Perhaps the best is in Russian folklore, in which the Devil tricked both cats and dogs into thinking the other species stole its ‘rightful fur’.
Truth be told, its far rarer than it used to be to see dogs chasing cats. But unless they’re socialized from a young age, cats won’t like dogs, and dogs won’t like cats. So why is that?
Dogs Chase Smaller Animals That Run Away
This is the core reason dogs and cats have never got on.
Dogs have what’s called a ‘prey drive’. This is your dog’s instinct to chase after things it thinks might be prey, or that at least remind it of prey.
The prey drive is a fascinating subject, but the reason it’s relevant here is that dogs love chasing things that run away. Unfortunately, a cat’s reaction to seeing a dog for the first time is just that—to run away. That’s why dogs chase cats.
You can’t entirely get rid of your dog’s prey drive. Not only is it an instinct, but it’s an instinct that was selected for further by breeders who wanted dogs that would chase rats, foxes and other animals. Through thorough obedience training you can teach a dog not to chase cats, but it’s not as easy as teaching it to sit.
It may seem unfair to name this as the most important barrier between canine-feline relations! It’s true that cats play their part too. But cats that are mean to dogs tend to be picky about territory, may bat at the dog with their paws, and are more unfriendly than anything. But when a cat is chased by a dog, it will be frightened for its life. It’s therefore more important to mold your dog’s behavior than to mold your cat’s behavior. We’ll come back to this point later on in the guide.
Cats And Dogs ‘Speak Different Languages’
The heart of the matter is that cats and dogs can’t communicate with each other effectively.
Both cats and dogs display body language that communicates how they feel. So, a cat that feels defensive will arch its back; a dog that feels embarrassed or ashamed will slink away with its tail between its legs. What’s fascinating is that both species have body language which they learned in the wild, and body language that they use specifically to communicate to us. Cats rarely meow except to get a person’s attention, for instance.
Since we domesticated both species, we’ve learned the body language of both cats and dogs. Their behaviors look like the most natural and easy to understand in the world. But neither cats nor dogs can innately understand the body language of the other. This means that misunderstandings frequently happen, leading to conflict.
Play Can Escalate To Real Fighting
This is especially relevant in the context of play fighting.
Kittens play fight with other kittens when they grow up. Through doing so, the kitten will learn how to hunt for prey and how to defend itself against predators, and how to fight other cats. Puppies do much the same thing. Body language is used by both species to determine whether the fighting is real or not; so, for example:
Cats that are play fighting will make almost no noise, will pounce, will take turns attacking and defending, and will end the ‘fight’ by displaying friendly behaviors like grooming each other.
Cats that aren’t play fighting will hiss and yowl loudly, approach each other very slowly, will puff their tails out, will have a clear attacker and defender, and will not revert back to being friends afterwards.
If you’ve ever seen a cat playfighting with a dog, you can sometimes see how unsure the dog is just by looking at it. You can tell from its body language that it doesn’t know how to react because it doesn’t know whether the cat is playfighting or starting a real fight. This is less so the case if the dog was raised with cats from a young age.
The same applies in reverse. Puppies are especially playful, and your cat may not know how to react to its requests for play. It may lash out feeling that it has to defend itself.
Competition For Your Affection & Attention
Your pets may also dislike each other because they compete over you. If either is particularly jealous, they will interpret you spending time with the other pet as a personal slight. This will lead to them disliking the other pet in the house. There’s little you can do about this apart from trying to spend time with each equally.
Is It Possible For a Cat And a Dog To Be Friends?
Despite all this, it is possible for your cat and dog to co-exist peacefully. It’s partly a matter of luck, partly a matter of picking the right breeds, and partly a matter of training each pet to behave around the other.
How to Get Cats And Dogs to Like Each Other
The key to making your cat and dog get along is to mold your dog’s behavior. That’s because your dog’s behavior is the most serious impediment to the pair getting along.
Take a cat’s jealousy, for example. Your cat might not like that you spend time with the dog. But your cat will only typically show disdain for the dog by doing things like sitting at the top of the stairs so the dog can’t get past, or sleeping in the dog’s bed. The dog, by contrast, could chase the cat and make it fear for its life. If it really wanted to, the dog could kill the cat.
That doesn’t mean you should focus entirely on the dog’s behavior, and let the cat do whatever it likes. Far from it. But the tips below mostly relate to making the dog cat-friendly rather than making the cat dog-friendly.
1) Start With Suitable Cats & Dogs
It’s likely that you’ve found this guide because you already have a cat and a dog, and they won’t get on. But if you have the option—if you haven’t adopted your dog and cat yet—then the choice you make now could make your life a lot less stressful later on!
There are certain dogs that get along with cats better than average. These breeds don’t have as strong a prey drive as others, and are generally good natured and friendly. There are also breeds of cat that are friendlier than others. Adopting these breeds means your cat and dog are more likely to coexist.
What dogs get along with cats? Consider toy dogs, as these don’t have a strong hunting instinct. Beagles are bred for hunting, but crucially were bred to hunt in groups, so tend to get on well with cats when kept alone. Retrievers have a high prey drive but are generally friendly.
What cats get along with dogs? The breed matters less, but some are friendlier than others. Persians and Maine coons are friendly. Any domestic cat without an obvious breed is fine too.
Bear in mind that if you are buying a puppy and a kitten, the breed matters less. That’s because you have time to train your dog and shape its behavior so that it doesn’t chase your cat.
2) Use Obedience Training to Stop The Dog Chasing The Cat
It is possible to curb your dog’s instincts, at least to an extent. Basic obedience training is suitable for this purpose. Begin by training your dog to do things like sit, stay and lie down. These basic interactions will first teach your dog what it is to learn a command, and second will make the dog better behaved when it interacts with the cat. Then, when your dog and cat interact, you can use these commands to your advantage. You should therefore have these basics of command mastered before you introduce the dog and cat for the first time.
If you find it difficult to train your dog, consider hiring a professional dog trainer. Or, consider using formalized training methods like whistle training or clicker training.
3) Set Up a Calm Environment
Just as important is the environment that your pets live in. If your home is calm and quiet, your pets will be happier; if it’s noisy and uncomfortable, they will be less happy. This directly affects how the pair will interact.
The issue is that a loud, uncomfortable and harsh environment will cause both pets stress. Stress is a physical reaction that the body causes when it senses danger. The heart beats faster, movements are made more quickly, and the animal reacts to unexpected things defensively. This stress reaction can be caused by many different things, including noise, sudden movements, conflict and pain.
If you’ve ever had chronic stress, or known somebody who has, you’ll know where this is going! This stressful state makes a person or a pet more likely to lash out. Any time your cat annoys your dog, or your dog annoys your cat, this added stress can tip them over the edge. As such, you should make your home as calm as possible for your pets. Consider the following:
- Don’t have the TV or radio on so loud. The constant blare of the TV can make a stressful situation much worse.
- Don’t have people constantly coming and going. Your dog and cat don’t know when people are coming round. Your pets may view new, unfamiliar people as threats.
- Have calm and happy interactions with your pets. Pet them gently sometimes instead of rough-housing with them every time.
- Try to avoid raising your voice.
- Feliway. Feliway diffusers are like a air-fresheners, but instead of containing scents, they contain synthetic cat pheromones. These make the cat feel more at home and lower its stress levels. Feliway is safe for use around dogs, but won’t affect them; there are products relevant for dogs like Adaptil which will.
These few changes can make both of your pets calmer and help them cope with each other.
4) Give Each Pet Its Own Space
You also shouldn’t underestimate how much each pet needs its own space: somewhere it can go and relax away from you, from other pets, and from anything else that might stress it out. The idea behind this is a simple one: any time your cat or dog feels overwhelmed, it can retreat in safety to its own space. This defuses tense situations and makes each pet feel better.
The core of the space should be each pet’s bed. Both cats and dogs produce pheromones, and these pheromones are left behind anywhere that each pet sits or lies down. Having somewhere comfortable and familiar to sleep will make both your pets feel at home.
You should also designate certain rooms in the home as dog-only rooms and others as cat-only rooms. This is important as both dogs and cats can feel insecure in their ‘territory’ when a new pet is introduced. Cats are notorious for sleeping in dogs’ beds, so put the dog bed in a room your cat isn’t allowed to access.
5) Introduce The Dog And Cat Correctly
First impressions count for a lot, especially during the early formative years of a cat’s or dog’s life. You should therefore take steps to make the initial introduction a positive one.
Start by having the pair able to see, smell and hear each other with a barrier between them. Having them meet with a stair gate between them, or with each in a cage or kennel, is a good start. The pair are able to sense each other but should feel safe, since they can’t physically interact. Have them meet in a neutral room, i.e. one that isn’t a dog-only room or a cat-only room. The living room is an obvious choice.
Introduce them this way several times over the course of a week. Then, allow them to interact freely in the same room, with one caveat: keep the dog on its leash. Give the dog basic commands like sit and stay so that it knows what it’s supposed to do. If the worst happens and the dog lunges for the cat, then you can maintain control over it with its leash.
Try your best to keep both the cat and dog calm during these intial interactions. Consider:
- Giving each pet treats if they’re well behaved
- Giving each pet affection to make them feel happy
- Leaving several exit routes open at all times like doors, and even windows for the cat to escape through if it feels it’s necessary
- Talk to each pet in a low, soothing voice
You may find that all of this is unnecessary. Whether a dog will want to chase to a cat seems partly to be random chance: some dogs notorious for hating cats like terriers can get along with them, while other supposedly calmer breeds can react badly. Maintain control and calm even if things go wrong.
Both cats and dogs have crucial developmental periods when they’re young. It’s during these periods that they learn what’s dangerous from what’s not, how to communicate with each other, how to play and playfight, and lots more. Kittens go through this stage during the first few weeks of life. It’s during this period that you should ideally introduce the dog and cat for the first time. Again, this may not be an option for you; but if it is, take advantage of it.
During this initial period of development, cats learn whether people are kind and helpful, or mean and cruel; these first impressions stay with them throughout their lives. This is called ‘socialization’. You can see this in action with feral cats, which don’t have positive interactions with people during this period, and therefore will never trust them.
The same applies to other pets. Say hypothetically that you get a puppy and a kitten at the same time. While they don’t play in the exact same way, they can learn what to expect from each other when growing up. This will set them up for successful and friendly interaction in the future.
It’s easy to socialize a kitten and a puppy. Have them spend time with each other under supervision, but with as little interference as possible. Allow them to learn the boundaries of their social relationship by playing together, cuddling together, and generally just being around each other. Only consider separating them if they are clearly fighting for real, or if the dog is consistently chasing the cat.
As your cat and dog get used to each other, you want to make it as normal as possible for them to spend time with each other. Have them spend time together under your supervision, without any restrictions. If they do like each other, they may cuddle, play or just sit together.
You shouldn’t force either pet to do something it doesn’t want to do. If the cat feels uncomfortable around the dog, that’s not something you can fix by forcing them to stay in the same room. Instead, you have to be patient and wait for the cat to realize that the dog isn’t a danger. This is something that can only come with time.
If the above steps don’t work for you, there are still options. First, you should take both pets to the vet. Either pet might be ill, and when pets are ill, they feel stressed and defensive. Fix the health issue and the pair may interact more calmly in future. Your second option is to talk to professional pet behaviorists. They may identify what precisely makes your cat so uncomfortable, or your dog so rowdy around your cat. They can also give you pointers about your home to make it more comfortable for all of your pets.
You should also bear in mind that just because your pets get along now, that doesn’t mean they always will. Relations could turn sour for what seems like no reason. That could either mean a tense living situation, or if the worst came to the worst, one of your pets attacking the other. Ensure that you are ready for this situation should it arise.