If you’ve seen any of the plethora of hilarious dog vs cat memes constantly circulating on social media, you could be forgiven for assuming that dogs and cats are mortal enemies. It’s an idea reinforced by popular culture as well, with everyone from Garfield and Odie to the Cats & Dogs movie franchise providing plenty of famous examples of dogs and cats that simply can’t get along.
However, you might be surprised to learn that it’s entirely possible for dogs and cats to share the family home and live together in complete harmony. Let’s take a closer look at how these cross-species friendships become possible!
Signs Your Dog Doesn't Like Cats
Introducing your dog to your feline friend for the first time can be a tense process, but there are usually plenty of telltale signs to pick up on that indicate when your dog is uncomfortable with the situation. In an ideal world, your dog will have loose and relaxed body language around cats and show no indications that he's thinking of chasing your terrified kitty up the nearest tree.
However, some canines, especially those with a strong prey drive, will stiffen and tense up. With hackles raised and a stare fixated on your cat, your dog may look like he's getting ready to launch himself at the other animal. Barking, growling, and even lunging at the cat are all possibilities.
Then there are those dogs whose anxiety manifests itself in different ways. At the first sign of your cat, these cowardly canines will hightail it out of there and head for somewhere they feel safe. This may seem amusing at first, but it's important to help your dog overcome his fear to ensure a happy and harmonious household.
The History of Dog / Cat Relationships
The history of animosity between dogs and cats goes back a long time. Dogs were first domesticated by humans at least 15,000 years ago (and possibly as long as 32,000 years ago) and quickly came to play extremely important roles as hunters, guardians, and eventually companions.
By the time cats began living closely alongside us around 10,000 years ago — our two species were originally drawn closer together by the cat's ability to hunt mice — dogs were well entrenched in many aspects of our lives and most likely enjoyed a much higher level of care than their feline counterparts.
The ancient Egyptians are thought to be the first people to show love and affection for cats, roughly 4,000 years ago, and the two species have come to play integral roles in our lives. However, that doesn't mean they can always get along with one another, and the phrase "fighting like cats and dogs" has been around for well over a century and maybe even as early as the 1500s.
The Science of Dog / Cat Relationships
Why can't all our furry friends just get along? It all comes down to what our pets are genetically predisposed to do. Whether protecting a herd of sheep, working as a ratter, or hunting much larger prey alongside their masters, dogs have been used for a wide range of important tasks over several thousands of years — and our selective breeding has encouraged the development of this strong prey drive.
The result is that many canines have a natural instinct to chase small prey that runs away, and cats have a whole lot of experience of escaping their pursuers. Not all cats run away, however, and when they choose to stand and fight the clashes can be fierce.
But that doesn't mean dogs and cats can't be friends. In 2008, researchers at Tel Aviv University studied 200 dual-pet households and found that 65 percent of dogs and cats living together had good relationships. These happy housemates played together, snuggled up together for naps, and even shared water bowls.
What about the other dual-pet households in the study? Well, 25 percent of homes saw indifferent but reasonably harmonious relationships between dogs and cats; aggression and fighting was a problem in the other 10 percent.
Training Dogs and Cats to be Friends
If you want to encourage your dog to get along well with the feline members of the household, it’s best to start training as soon as possible! Once you’ve brought your new puppy home and got her settled into her new surroundings, it’s time to start getting her used to cohabiting with your resident kitty cat.
Introducing the two species to one another during their socialization periods — five to 12 weeks for puppies and four to eight weeks for kittens — is your best bet, but there's still plenty of time to develop positive associations up to the age of six months (for cats) or one year (for dogs).
However, it's also possible to help older dogs and cats become friends. The trick is to take things slowly and let each animal adapt at their own pace — for example, you might want to give each pet the chance to sniff the other's bedding before introducing them face to face.
Make sure your pet is well trained and will respond to your commands, but keep a leash handy for at least the first few interactions. Remember to keep their food and toys separate to prevent any resource guarding, and give each animal their own space they can retreat to if they ever need some quiet time.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 01/24/2018, edited: 04/06/2020