Dogs and cats are notorious for their tumultuous relationship. They chase and taunt each other if they cohabitate. The claws might come out, the dogs might bark, and it can be utter chaos having these two species in one house.
But on occasion, older dogs will take care of a kitten and create a beautiful bond. A dog snuggling next to a cat is super cute, but when a dog snuggles with a kitten, your heart could just melt.
Why is it that dogs and cats can’t get along, but they’ll care for kittens? How can we make dogs and kittens friends all the time?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs have been known to adopt an abandoned or orphaned kitten. This is an instinct that female dogs have because of their maternal nature. They do this so the kitten will survive. The dam, or the dog mother, will welcome the kitten into her litter and feed it as her own. Sometimes non-lactating dogs will begin lactating if they find a kitten without a mother. The dog mother protects and cleans the kitten and treats it as her own until the kitten can survive independently.
However, if you have a lone kitten and a new mother to puppies, the pair might not necessarily take. Dams have instincts to know which puppies in her litter will survive and while as humans we can provide resources for all her puppies to survive, she may not see it that way. If your dog has a large litter and can’t provide enough milk for her puppies, she might reject a kitten to protect her own. Also, if a kitten and dam are introduced when a kitten no longer needs a mother for food and protection, it is less likely they will pair because survival is not reliant on a mother anymore.
This is not to say that it won’t happen or that only new mothers adopt kittens. If you’ve introduced a kitten into a household with an older dog, a friendship and caring relationship can occur. Dogs will make friends with a kitten because they are social animals and would rather have company than be alone. Once they have established that bond, the dog will take care of the kitten as part of its pack.
Taking care of other species’ young is not exclusive to dogs and cats. The instinct to protect their young is maternal, but the desire for companionship can come from any animal. This expands their pack and adds a resource, like extra protection or hunting skills.
Encouraging the Behavior
This maternal instinct can be encouraged. You might be taking care of a litter of puppies because they ended up in your yard and a kitten joined the party. You might breed dogs and you found an abandoned kitten, introduced her and she was accepted as part of the pack. Whether you want to keep the kitten once she is weaned is your choice, but by letting her stay, you’re helping her survive, which is a wonderful thing.
If your dog and kitten situation is not out of maternal instinct, it’s important you introduce the animals in a safe and nonthreatening environment. Make sure there is a sense of food security, designated spaces, and you give each one equal attention. A new kitten is fun to play with, but your old pal is too. If you’ve never introduced a pair like this together, you should talk to a trainer or a vet to make sure you have all the elements for a smooth transition. Your dog and kitten have needs and if they’re not met it can create a disaster. Also, a trip to the vet to make sure each animal is up-to-date on their shots and is healthy is important. Some diseases that can be passed between dogs and cats include parasites, ringworm, rabies, and the common cold. If you have other cats in the house, you want to make sure neither has feline leukemia, which is only transmittable from cat to cat, not humans or dogs.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Letting dogs take care of kittens, especially for survival, can make us all feel warm and fuzzy and appreciate the circle of life. The friendship can grow and they can bond as they get older. The companionship is good for them to feel more social, and if a kitten is introduced to an older dog, it might make them more active and energetic.
You should let the friendship run its course and keep an eye out for any problems that indicate they’re not getting along. It’s important to be aware of the dynamic in the household and take them to a vet or trainer if either animal demonstrates uncharacteristic behavior for their relationship.
Dogs and kittens make an adorable pair and their need to team up is a great reminder of how we all could use a friend or two, even if it’s not who we’d expect. When you get a dog and kitten that want to be forever friends, encourage it, and hold on to that feline.