The phrase “fighting like cat and dog” didn’t just appear from nowhere. Cats and dogs have been perceived to be arch-enemies, seemingly since the dawn of time—certainly since the debut of Looney Tunes anyway. Famous cartoon bird Tweety would often turn the tables on his feline pursuer Sylvester, who would then end up being chased, bullied and terrorized by Spike the Bulldog. Ask anyone you know what they think the opposite of “dog” is and it’s highly likely that their reply will be “cat”. We’re conditioned to believe that cat is to dog what off is to on or up is to down—but is that really the case? Even Sylvester and Tweety buried the hatchet eventually, so the question is: can dogs and cats truly get along?
The Root of the Behavior
Out in the wild, animals have a distinct pecking order. Generally, the food chain is ordered in terms of size, save for the odd beast that might be small but surprisingly effective or, on the other hand, big and dumb. From our perception of cats and dogs in a domestic sense, we might presume then that dogs will always be the ones to hunt cats, based purely on their size. We would of course be forgetting that cats in the wild also comes in all shapes and sizes, some as big as lions and tigers, as well as smaller but still highly-capable hunters like panthers and cheetahs, who could easily prey on many canine mammals.
Sadly, a lot of natural canine behavior is a red rag to a bull—or a cat, should I say. Being related to wolves, who hunt in packs, dogs are much more social creatures than cats; they’re naturally inquisitive, love attention and are easily excited. Cats, on the other hand, who prefer to work alone, often come across as aloof and anti-social, but are actually just taking the time to assess the situation before they get involved. Seeing a dog blunder into the thick of it without a care in the world, with its tail going nineteen-to-the-dozen, is often perceived by the cat as a threat. Then the cat runs off, which the dog takes as a signal to chase and before you know it, both are living up to their reputation as feuding foes.
Of course, when we see a dog and a cat having a row, we immediately jump to the conclusion that the scuffle has occurred because one is a dog and one is a cat, a societal generalization forced on us by entertainment and literature. We’re forgetting that dogs are just as likely to fight with their own kind, as are cats. In a social situation, like many humans, animals are keen to assert their dominance over others for many reasons. For humans, it usually isn’t of any particular importance who the other person or people are, where they come from, what they do, or anything else. So, does it really matter to a dog what species another four-legged being belongs to? Probably not. The popular belief that dogs and cats automatically hate each other is simply the result of their respective, natural reactions to each other’s behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
That being said, cats and dogs can—and commonly do—coexist happily in the same house. “Happily,” in the sense that the cat begrudgingly agrees to tolerate the dog, of course. Raising puppies and kittens together from birth is an ideal way to create a harmonious relationship between the two, as they grow up around each other’s behavior and tend to naturally work out their social boundaries between them in time—in other words, the dog learns what the cat is or isn’t prepared to put up with.
Introducing older cats and dogs into the same household can be a little more difficult, as both may possess at least a little bit of that social conditioning that we talked about earlier. That doesn’t mean to say that if you bring a cat into your home, your dog will automatically go into attack mode. What’s more likely is that the dog will get over-excited to see its new fluffy pal and overstep the cat’s boundaries shortly after meeting, if not immediately. It’s unlikely that the cat will hesitate to tell the dog off either, unless it’s a particularly nervous one. Leaving your poor pooch to get scratched and hissed at until it gets the message is unfair and could end up causing injury to your dog. The goal is to try and forge a friendship, rather than just awkward tolerance, so it’s important that you play an active role in the introduction process.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The best way to go about introducing a cat to a dog very much depends on their individual personalities and characteristics. Some cats will scope out the situation, whereas others will immediately flee and hide. Similarly, some dogs are also more reserved than others. As I said, it’s highly unlikely that your dog will try to attack the cat, but it will certainly be fascinated by it and want to say hello, which the cat may well read as threatening.
Presuming you can get both animals to remain in the same room for more than five seconds, the aim will be to teach your dog to respect the social boundaries of the cat. If the dog oversteps the mark, gently pull it back and try to calm it down, before letting it approach the cat again, hopefully in a gentler manner. Rinse and repeat. The simple fact is, if you don’t teach your dog how to behave around your cat, the cat will. That lesson usually ends with a lot of hissing, claw marks and one unhappy pooch!
So, the idea that dogs and cats actively hunt each other is fairly inaccurate. In reality, wild felines and canines are far too much trouble for each other; they would much prefer to avoid each other altogether and target smaller prey.
Despite natural wiring that may cause domestic dogs and cats to read each other’s behavior incorrectly, instigating chases and scuffles, with a bit of boundary-setting work, cats and dogs can live in perfect harmony together—and ironically, it’s the cutest thing ever.