A casual interaction between a cat and a dog can turn sour quickly, usually leading to one of these critters chasing or pouncing on the other. This tumultuous relationship is so widespread that it led to the coining of the phrase, “fighting like cat and dog.” Cats and dogs can peacefully coexist within the same household, but why do they seem to hate each other?
Dogs and cats hate each other because of the predator-prey relationship. Dogs have the desire to give chase to smaller animals, and cats have the instinct to run away when they feel threatened. The two species also fight to assert their role in the household hierarchy or retain their territory.
Whenever a cat and dog cross paths or eye each other up, it’s normal to utter an “uh-oh.” The reason these two species butt heads so often comes down to instincts and inter-species miscommunication. To learn about why cats and dogs hate each other, read on!
An Instinctual Relationship
The instincts of cats and dogs are incredible. For example, a young kitten knows to use the litter box and cover its poop without showing it how. On the other hand, a puppy may bury its toy in the garden to keep other dogs (or you) from touching it, digging it up later on for afternoon playtime.
Instincts can also cause a rift in the standard dog/cat relationship.
All dogs have a prey drive, but some are far more active than others, and when a small animal — like a squirrel, raccoon, or cat — scurries in the opposite direction, your dog’s instinct to give chase only strengthens. Unfortunately, your unsuspecting cat is often on the receiving end of this desire. Your dog may see your cat darting after the laser toy, feel the urge to chase your cat, and finally dash after her for an impromptu play session.
Alternatively, cats are no strangers to being chased. Wild cats often find themselves fleeing from coyotes, eagles, and snakes and will do just about anything to evade capture (i.e., running at 30 mph or climbing a tree). When your dog chases your cat impulsively, the feline instinct to fight back or flee becomes overwhelming. A cat may hiss at, swat at, or bite when she feels threatened by a dog.
These instincts tear at the relationship in two ways: cats see dogs as their predators and want to keep their distance, and dogs may develop a fear of cats after a claw to the eye or hiss.
Both dogs and cats excel when it comes to reading the body language within their own species. For example, many dogs can detect when another canine is aggressive or planning to attack, and they will keep from getting too close. Sometimes, there’s an overlap between behaviors in the two species (i.e., both dogs and cats will display dilated pupils when scared or frightened).
Yet, other times, the exact opposite is true — what means “I want to play” in dogs means “I’m ready to attack” in cats. In other words, the turbulent relationship between dogs and cats often comes down to unintentional miscommunication.
Here’s an example:
An excited canine might bounce around and bark when he wants to play, and when there’s another dog to play with within the room, he might mouth or wrestle with him. A cat might receive this naturally playful dog behavior as potentially aggressive. Not only will the cat reject this play session, but it might swat at the dog in the process.
Both your dog and cat may mean well but don’t understand the other’s behaviors.
The Innate Desire to Become the “Alpha” Dog (or Cat)
Just to make the relationship between cats and dogs even more complicated, both species have the innate desire to fall into a pecking order (or a hierarchy). The ensuing power struggle can impact the harmony between dogs and cats in a shared household.
Here’s how it works:
A “dominant” cat will define herself as the “alpha” cat in the household — she’s at the top of the pecking order, and all other pets fall below her. Your cat may block your dog’s pathway, swat at it, or steal its food to assert power and control. The best-case scenario to avoid vicious fights between the two is having a more assertive cat and a docile dog. After all, dogs are far easier to train and more willing to accept their new household roles.
Of course, social ranking causes issues when your dog and cat are continually fighting for that “top slot” in the household. Cats and dogs with strong personalities may battle over food, a shared sleeping spot, or even a petting session with you. The trouble may not be a predator and prey relationship as much as an unsolved power struggle with both sides refusing to concede.
One of the most glaring reasons that cats and dogs don’t get along is that both species tend to be territorial — they want to claim (and keep) what’s rightfully theirs.
For example, a cat might rub her cheek and forehead against her favorite objects and people, claiming them as her own. As a result, your cat may become jealous (or feel encroached on) and vigorously rub against you to “reclaim” you after your dog snuggles with you in bed.
This territorial instinct can elevate to gross extremes — including urine or feces marking — if your cat and dog continuously feel they’re competing for the same space and things. In other words, dogs and cats may dislike (or even hate) each other when they think their food, bed, comfort, and safety are in danger of being taken.
Instead of seeing the other as their sibling, they view them as their rival or worst enemy.
Can Cats and Dogs Get Along?
Cats and dogs can get along, and many coexist without fighting or scuffles. Some cat/dog duos share such a strong bond that they’ll share food and water bowls, snuggle on the couch, or groom one another. However, this blissful relationship between cat and dog isn’t the “norm.”
The outlook of this relationship usually comes down to behavior and breed.
Some dog breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog, Whippet, and Afghan Hound have strong prey drives and enjoy chasing down small animals (including cats). Meanwhile, breeds like the Collie, Golden Retriever, and Papillon are generally mild-mannered, outgoing, and docile, making them better companions in households with anxious cats.
Cats are typically more reluctant than dogs when building this unusual interspecies friendship. However, a cat with its own space (like a kitty perch), an easy-going attitude, and no bad past experiences with a dog may welcome this canine into the home with open arms.
Some cats and dogs duos are best friends, and others merely share the same home, but as long as they’re not nipping at ankles or clawing at eyes, it’s better than nothing.
A good relationship between a dog and a cat is something all pet owners only dream of. In the video below, you’ll see the beautiful story of Alvin and Baron, who are best friends:
Cats and dogs may not always be best friends by nature, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for your pets always going head-to-head. The best way to build a healthy bond between your dog and cat is to introduce them properly, give them separate “safe” spaces within your home, and play with each pet separately.
If the relationship between the two is still going poorly, you can also reach out to an animal behaviorist to nurture the shared connection with tried and true techniques.
- The Free Dictionary: Fight Like Cat and Dog
- Animal Humane Society: How to introduce a dog and cat
- ASPCA: Behavioral Help for Your Pet
- AKC: Cat Owners Wanting to Get a Dog Should Take a Look at These Breeds
- Pet Central: 10 Dog Breeds that Do Not Get Along Well with Cats
- Cesar’s Way: Strange Facts About Canine Instincts
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Behavior Problems: Aggression
- SPCA of Texas: Territorial Marking Behavior in Dogs and Cats