Tune into any children’s cartoon or Disney flick, and you’ll catch the same chaotic scene: a dog and a cat mercilessly brawling and fighting to the death. Fluffy swats at Fido, a rowdy pup chases a loner kitty around the dining room in tornado-like fashion, or bed thievery runs rampant. You might even witness this hostility in your home — but why do dogs and cats fight?
Dogs and cats fight because of the natural predator-prey relationship. In the wild, dogs see skittish cats as hunting targets and chase after them when they run. Cats view dogs as dangerous predators, attacking in self-defense. Domestically, both species compete for food, attention, and territory.
Both dogs and cats can be unpredictable critters, but watching them go from friendly to aggressive in mere milliseconds is undoubtedly confusing. Is it pure disdain for the other, or is it little more than species instinct? To learn about why dogs and cats fight, read on!
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Can Dogs and Cats Fight Playfully?
Unless you’ve mastered feline and canine body language, every cat-dog WrestleMania match will look aggressive or hostile. However, cats and dogs can — and do — fight playfully without injuring one another. Here are the signs that you’re witnessing a harmless tussle:
- One ‘invites’ the other to play: Rolling over on their back, gently tapping the other’s head with a paw, or dropping a toy in front of them
- Both alternate between the dominant and submissive roles: Swapping who’s chasing who, both mouthing or swiping (with retracted claws), or taking turns reviving the ‘fight’
- Not escalating the fight: No hissing, concerning growling, bloody swats or bites, teeth-baring, or erect hair (standing up)
Cats and dogs get along best if they’re introduced properly or grow up together, building an unbreakable kitten-puppy bond. Maybe you’ve even snapped a shot of your four-legged pals snuggling on the couch or keeping watch at the sliding glass door while seated side-by-side.
Next, you’ll discover the role evolution played in the now cliche dog-cat brawls!
Why Dogs Fight With Cats
While cats are the usual instigators in those interspecies fights, dogs don’t get off entirely scot-free. That’s because dogs have hardwired hunting instincts that trigger an impulsive desire to chase rapidly moving objects — like a tossed tennis ball or cat prancing down the hallway.
Particularly common in hunting or herding breeds, an excited or playful dog will pursue a wandering cat for the ‘thrill of the chase.’ In the classic dog-cat relationship, dogs fill that predator role — albeit not always with sinister intentions.
Is it an overzealous dog tormenting your unsuspecting cat? The video below explains how to train Fido to leave Fluffy be (and finally restore peace to your household):
Why Cats Fight With Dogs
A cat retaliating against an unruly dog is also an instinctual behavior, though it’s rooted in far different goals. Cats are solitary creatures by nature, and dogs are notorious pack animals, sometimes ten times larger than kitties.
In the wild, a wolf approaching a 12-pound (5.4-kg) cat is a life-or-death scenario for the feline, which is why cats become instinctively defensive around dogs. A dog mozying into a cat’s bubble could be a threat, and a nervous cat might swat or hiss to tell the dog to keep its distance.
Do these inter-species scuffles always begin with a swat to the forehead? The video below details how to get your kitty to finally ‘call it quits’ on this habit:
How Sharing a Household Causes Fights
While these natural-born foes can coexist peacefully in the same household, the tight quarters and miscommunication can ultimately trigger fights.
Cats and dogs both express how they’re feeling via body language, but there’s minimal overlap between the two species.
For example, in the feline world, a swishing tail signals angst and irritation: stay away from me! However, in the canine community, a wagging tail is all about excitement: come on; let’s play! An unsuspecting dog might see the tail swishing as a playful invite, which encourages Fido to bow or invade the cat’s boundaries.
The resulting fight stems from misread messages on both ends.
Fighting for What’s Theirs
Because they’re sharing a home with another, cats and dogs are also ‘fighting’ for food, territory, and affection.
Cats tend to be territorial, especially when another animal’s scent mixes with their pheromones or covers them completely.
Felines rely on scent marking to ‘claim’ their favorite objects and feel comfortable in a house that smells like them. When that cuddly dog lounges on her favorite sofa spot or drinks out of the communal water bowl, Fluffy might become defensive or aggressive.
If she feels outnumbered or her normal territory is being invaded, a territorial cat might wage wars with your dog by:
- Aggressively rubbing her scent on household items
- Blocking your dog’s pathway or food bowl
- Marking her prized possessions with urine
- Scaring your dog away when he tries to cuddle with you
Even if your dog and cat never had to scavenge for food before, welcoming a new critter into the home puts their food supply at risk. That’s why cats and dogs might tussle near their food bowls, as you’re preparing dinner or as the other is snacking on kibble. Both critters might assert their dominance if forced to compete for a single food bowl, water spout, attention, or a bed.
In other words, these fights can be a survival instinct.
How To Stop Those Dog-Cat Brawls
The only way to stop these vicious boxing matches between Fido and Fluffy is by meeting each pet’s needs individually. Here are three strategies for ending those skirmishes once and for all:
Give Each an Escape Route
A small and bare apartment might feel cozy to you, but it can be agonizing for cats and dogs, who both enjoy their space. So, revamp your living arrangements to ensure that both pets have an escape route or retreat before they decide to duke it out in the living room.
For cats, that could mean a baby gate in a bedroom that only your cat can clear or a tall cat tower for uninterrupted naps. For dogs, putting their beds, toys, and bowls in a separate room will do just fine.
Take Time To Introduce Them Slowly
When you bring a new pet into the household, both your current and new fur balls undergo stress as they get used to this ‘new normal.’
A slow introduction allows both pets to learn about the other without unleashing them both in the same room to settle their differences. Keep them separate for 3-4 days, scent swap with bedding or a T-shirt, and introduce them face-to-face with the dog on a leash. Don’t force them to get along, and always be ready to separate them.
Play With Your Pets
Many dog and cat scuffles result from pent-up energy and a desire to play, though these attempts often go awry. Redirect their willingness to chase, pounce, and wrestle by giving your dogs and cats play sessions. Encourage your kitty to dart after the laser toy or swat at the mouse toy. Your dog might enjoy a tennis ball chase, squeak toy, or rope tug-of-war session.
An innocent play invitation can become a terrifying bloodbath, with a scratched cornea or pierced ear, in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, the long-sought-after ‘harmony’ that pet owners crave develops a new definition—coexisting without inciting all-out brawls.
The best way to prevent those brutal fights is by being more selective about the pets you adopt. If your cat is jealous or has a low tolerance for loud noises, a barking dog wouldn’t make a good addition. Also, you shouldn’t adopt a cat if your 600 sq. ft. (55.7 sq. m.) apartment with two puppies is already tight on space.
- Best Friends Animal Society: How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat
- Animal Planet: Why do cats hiss?
- PetMD: How to Deal with Territorial Behavior in Cats
- AKC: Why Is My Dog Fascinated By Birds, Squirrels, and Other Critters?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.