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  • Writer's pictureThousand Hills Pet Resort

Dogs & Cats: Why Can't They Just Get Along?

By Hannah Stein

You know the phrase, “fighting like cats and dogs.” In many situations, cat and dog are absolute best friends! That is not always the case. Are these two animals really mortal enemies? Or can they just get along? 

1. Natural Instinct

For dogs who have never been socialized with a cat, they see kitties as prey. Conversely, cats who are unfamiliar with dogs are afraid. This sets the two animals off poorly from the start. A cat may react by fighting- scratching, hissing, or biting. None of these cat actions are usually fatal for dogs. Unfortunately, a dog does have the power to cause severe damage on a kitty if they feel the need to respond by being defensive. 

2. Social Domestication

Dogs are descendents of wolves, who have always been social, pack animals. They began to be domesticated 15,000 years ago to help hunt, protect, and provide companionship. Cats were domesticated by Egyptians 10,000 years ago because the cats would kill pests (mice, rats, roaches, birds, etc.) that was near their food storage. Cats did not start becoming human companions until about 6,000 years ago. Before their domestication, cats were very solitary creatures. Their motive to join humans was mainly motivated by food. These very different innate social behaviors often can make their interactions awkward.

3. Body- Language Barrier

Because animals do not speak like humans, their form of communication is through body language, eye contact, and voice inflection. Cats greet each other by making eye contact and slowly approaching face-to-face with a stiff tail. They blink to indicate their peaceful intent. This is much different in comparison to dogs. Dogs associate eye contact with a sign of disrespect and dominance. They also run to greet another dog. Cats never run unless they are scared and have to get away from something, so a dog running at them is absolutely terrifying.

4. Purring vs. Growling

Dogs do not have an equivalent of purring. In fact, they think the sound of a cat purring is actually growling. Because of this misunderstanding, a dog might react aggressively thinking the cat is threatening them.

5. When to Speak

Cats meow, especially to humans, all the  time. Dogs mainly only make noises for negative reasons, like when they are anxious, scared, overstimulated, or because they want something. Dogs may, therefore, misinterpret a cat’s curious meow for something more negative. 

6. Owner’s Reaction

According to a recent study, in households with a dog and a cat, the cat is in charge. With the cat calling the shots, the dog is not usually the aggressor. This might be because owners are less likely to interfere with a cat antagonizing a dog than a dog being aggressive to a cat. Owners know that a dog can do a lot more damage and are more likely to intervene. Owners often find a cat’s aggression to a dog more amusing than anything else. Overall, dogs are more comfortable with a cat in the house than the cat is with the dog in the house. This is commonly explained by a cat’s understanding that they are the prey and because cats are a lot less further along in the domestication process. 

Dogs and cats are by no means mortal enemies. They do, however, have thousands of years of different behavioral and social patterns that make them unique. It is important to socialize your dog or your cat early on with the other. Even if it is later in life, some quality training and supervised interactions can allow these amazing creatures to live in harmony. Just because the phrase, “fighting like cats and dogs” insists they could never get along, does not mean your animals cannot still become best friends.


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