5 min read


Can Dogs Tell When Cats are in Heat?



5 min read


Can Dogs Tell When Cats are in Heat?


Have you ever seen a cat in heat? It's really obvious. Their hormones have them hyper-aroused. They are calling out in a screeching "MEEEE-OOOOOOWWWWW!"

Not only are these felines yelling out for a mate but they are strutting about with their hinds and tails up. Their rears will shudder and they will rub on the furniture. Cats can breed year round but their peak season for going into heat is spring to fall. Cats and people are certainly very aware when a feline is in heat. 

A dog's attraction to the cat will not have anything at all to do with the cat's raging hormones. Other animal instincts will draw the attentions of the dog to the cat.


Signs Your Dog Knows Your Cat is in Heat

Dogs can be observed to mount other dogs. They will also attempt this behavior on people. While there may be an occasional report of a dog trying to mount a cat, this is not a mating behavior. In fact, unless the dog is actually mating with a dog in heat, the mounting behavior is usually a sign of dominance. It can be a part of play or excitement. 

While mounting behavior can be normal, it can also be problematic. The attentive owner needs to be aware of the possibility that the dog is showing signs of dominance. If the dog is behaving in ways that are dominant toward the human, then there is a need for the human to learn how to establish their leadership as the alpha of the family.

Have you ever watched a dominant person walk into the room? They hold their body erect. Their chest is out; their head is held high. The person seems to see everyone in the room and hear every comment or expression in the air. The space surrounding the person is filled by that person. Resistance is met with a quick response that puts the challenger in their place. 

These very behaviors are also noted in dogs who are more dominant. The dominant dog is physically taking control of the situation. The body is erect and forward, on the toes and ready to spring into action. Ears are up and pointed forward. If the dog is moving toward aggression, there may be a curling of the lip and a wide whale eye. The tail may be wagging to the left.

While your dog may not try and mount your cat while she is in heat, they likely do notice the hormonal changes in the feline. That is because these hormones have a distinct smell - one that the cat normally would not be giving off. Your dog will also take note of your cat's strange behavior, knowing that something is definitely different. 

Body Language

Some signs that your dog is aware your cat is in heat include:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Ears Up

Other Signs

More signs to watch for if your dog knows your cat is in heat are:

  • Following The Cat
  • Avoiding The Cat
  • Paying More Attention To The Cat

History of Dogs and Cats


Dogs are natural hunters. Even your most tame and cute dog will have innate predatory instincts. Dogs will vary in the extent to which they show dominance and predatory behavior based on a number of conditions. These conditions include breed, experience, opportunity, motivation, and social facilitation. 

When it comes to breed, some breeds are more predatory than others. For example, hunting dogs are bred to chase animals. Experience refers to previous situations in which the dog had success and reward in the pursuit of prey. Opportunity means the animal is in an environment with the freedom to chase prey. Motivation is the internal processing that propels the animal to take action. Social facilitation refers to the presence or absence of a pack to support the chase behavior. 

In short, a dog may be more inclined to pursue a cat if the dog is a hunter who has previously chased cats with success, found it rewarding and there are no barriers to repeating the behavior. A cat in heat is going to be vocal and strutting around in a way that will naturally draw a dog's attention. If you plan to have a cat and a dog living together, it will be important to heed the instincts of the dog to hunt the cat and take precautions to keep both pets safe.

The Science of Dogs Reacting to Cats


While dogs have an incredible sense of smell and use their noses for detection, they are not necessarily aroused by the pheromones of the cat. Scientists have studied the behavior of dogs to learn what it is about cats that arouses them. 

In the wild, a cat will see a dog and run. When a dog sees a little furry creature running, they are going to run too. Hence the perception of dogs going after cats. Actually, the dog is just running after a furry creature, same as they would chase a squirrel. This is due to the dog's innate hunting instincts. 

The question still remains, what is it about the cat that arouses the dog? Is it the movement of the cat only? The smell of the cat? Are dog's intrigued by the meow of the cat? A research team headed by Christy Hoffman of the Department of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York,  looked at these very questions. 

They tested 69 dogs of various breeds. The experimenters used the a cat toy, a pillowcase on a rotating arm that moved like a cat, and recorded cat sounds. They exposed the dogs to these conditions with and without the smell of the cat. Surprisingly, the dogs were most aroused by the sound of the cat. The dogs having the most interest in the cat sounds had a history of aggression with cats. 

The second most interesting condition for the dogs involved the cat-like movements. Considering how cats will yell so much when they are in heat, they are probably drawing the attention of the dogs. It would be a mistake to assume the dog's interest is for mating. They are just checking out the cat, who might be better off getting spayed or just being quiet.

Training Your Dog to be Around Cats


Dogs and cats can learn to live together. It will be critical to take care in how the animals are introduced to one another. The dog will, by nature, be inclined to hunt the cat. Be sensible about the breed and disposition of your dog. 

If you have a dog that is dominating you or that has an aggressive disposition, you could be placing a cat in danger. You will want to keep your cat safe. 

You must also remember that both dogs and cats are territorial. The animals will need a gradual introduction to get accustomed to one another. Begin by just letting them smell one another. Keep the door closed. Gradually introduce the smells to one another. Exchange the dog and cat towels or toys so they can get used to one another's scents. You can try a baby gate - but remember, the cat can hop it. 

Another way to try a face to face introduction is to keep the dog on-leash while they see one another. Go slow. You might need to feed them on opposite sides of a closed door. Keep them separated when you leave the house to keep your cat safe. Gradually, they should become familiar to one another and live well together.

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Safety Tips for Dogs and Cats:

  1. Always supervise the pets until you know they are getting along.
  2. Feed the animals separately from one another.
  3. Make sure the dog and cat each have food, water, and a safe resting place - separately.
  4. Take your puppy to obedience school to learn how to follow commands.
  5. Establish yourself as the alpha to maintain your dominance in the house.
  6. Consider spaying the cat so she is calmer and easier for everyone to live with.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/05/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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