When you find out your cat hates your dog, it’s easier to despair. But there’s help! Here are several tips for getting your cat on board, and perhaps even form a lifelong bond with your dog.
“Mom, Kitty is going after Winston!” shrieked nine-year-old Mackenzie, dissolving into a puddle of tears.
Blood streaked the wall from a nasty claw-scratch on Winston’s face, but this didn’t stop him from pouncing on the furry ball of fury which was Kitty.
Sound familiar? Or perhaps it was the other way around, you expect that any minute now Kitty’s head would disappear into Winston’s slavering jaws?
Either way, an outright war declared between your beloved pets is a disturbing experience. You’re bound to ask yourself:
Where did I go wrong in my pet-rearing practices, and what can I do to heal the dislike which, you knew, had been simmering barely concealed beneath the surface of your fur-babies coexistence (source).
What do you do if your cat hates your dog? If your cat hates your dog you need to understand their different natures and individual personalities so you can work to pre-empt any aggression between them. Then, you can take some basic precautions to set the conditions towards mending the relationship and changing its dynamics.
Rest assured that an antagonistic relationship between your cat and dog is by no means inevitable. Nor is it an instinctive part of a cat’s nature to be fearful of and hostile towards dogs.
Some cats do seem to hate dogs. Others barely tolerate their existence, avoiding being in the same room together, and hissing, growling and arching a disdainful back when passing in the passageway.
But there is much evidence of tolerant, even loving, relationships between the two species. So, what can we do when your feline has had enough of his or her canine housemate?
First, let’s learn about the backdrops that frame their dispositions and instincts.
Some genetic background
The domestic cat (felis domesticus) and dog (canis familiaris) do share some “common” ancestry. But this commonality goes back an awfully long way. In zoological terms, cats and dogs share a “class” and “order”, both are mammals and carnivores, but that’s where the similarity ends.
From there, the family tree divides into feliformia (cat-like creatures) and caniformia (dog-like creatures). And all of this happened a long time ago, about 45 million years, give or take ten millennia, so one assumes that any vestigial family affection may have long been forgotten.
No one can say for sure which species evolved first, the cat or the dog. For our purposes, it doesn’t really matter. Formally, their genesis looks like this:
|Class||Mammalia (mammals)||Mammalia (mammals)|
|Order||Carnivora (meat-eaters)||Carnivora (meat-eaters)|
|Family||Felidae (cat family)||Canidae (dog family)|
|Genera||Panthera (cats that roar)Acinonyx (cheetah)Felis (all other small cats)||Canus (all canines)|
|Species||Domesticus (domestic cat)||Familiaris (modern dog)|
How important is breeding?
Before we dispense with their origins, let’s consider whether the different breeds of cats and dogs might make a difference to whether or not they get along together.
Experience (largely anecdotal) tells us that certain breeds of dog are not “cat-friendly”, and conversely that there are certain cat breeds that get along better with dogs.
Some of the dog breeds that you don’t want around cats are said to be the Whippet, the Afghan Hound, the Schipperke, smooth Fox Terriers, Schnauzers, and Irish Wolfhounds.
Cat breeds that are more likely to pal-up with your pooch are the Abyssinian, American Shorthair, Birman, and the Siberian, amongst a few other breeds.
But there will probably be pet-owners who have the opposite experience, and that’s really the point: it’s hard to predict with any certainty whether your pets are going to settle down together.
Most animal behaviorists these days place the animals’ individual personality on a higher plain than breed when it comes to whether or not they’re going to be able to live together (source).
How best to introduce pets to your household?
Raising a single dog or cat, for the most part, requires little more than common sense and a caring attitude from you, the “owner” of the pet. Bear in mind, on this topic, that dogs have owners, Cats have staff.
They are different animals, and their relationship with you will also be different. Dogs have a deserved reputation as “man’s (or women’s) best friend”, and will be delighted to see you when you arrive home from work, or arrive home from anywhere, for that matter; they will have entirely forgotten their evident disappointment that you left them at home in the first place.
Your cat, on the other hand, will make an appearance at his leisure or, in Eliot’s words: “You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air, but I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there.” Different animals they certainly are…
So, what to do when you’re introducing them to each other? You may already have a cat and want to get a dog. Or vice versa. Does it matter who was there first?
Does it matter how old they are (puppy/kitten vs older dog/cat)? And does it matter whether there is more than one dog/cat already in residence or being introduced to the tribe (source)?
The answers to these and (no doubt) other questions are, once again, frustratingly, yes, it matters, and no, it doesn’t. Here’s why.
Cat first, dog second; or the other way around?
Adopting and raising dogs and cats together is like arranging a marriage, not to be entered into “unadvisedly or lightly”.
This is not meant as any disrespect to marriage (or cats and dogs, for that matter), but points to the seriousness, and potential pitfalls, of any relationship, man or beast.
Staying with the marriage metaphor, and without stretching it too far, we hope, it makes sense, as a rule, to introduce pets (and people) to each other when they’re young.
There are no territories to defend, and no routines to be disrupted. That being said, both animals need time to adjust to the new surroundings.
But because dogs are more sociable and likely to want to “make friends” with whoever they meet, and cats are more withdrawn and in need of time to assess the situation, it is best to keep them apart for a while to get used to the new sounds and smells of their new surroundings and of the other residents.
Confining your cat to a room in the house with all the necessary comforts, familiar bedding, litter tray, food, and water bowls, will allow the sounds and smells to permeate without any confrontation.
During this time, the newly introduced dog may be fed outside the cat’s door, encouraging an association of food (yum!) with the unfamiliar smells of a cat (source).
There is a danger that the dog, sensing the strange presence, will bark at the door. This will freak-out the cat, so whatever you do, try not to let this happen, or at least try not to let the barking continue for any length of time!
Here the varying ages of the two animals will play a part. Problems, if any, tend to arise only if one or more of the new tenants is set in their ways and resentful of any intrusion into their domain.
This is another reason to keep cats, in particular, confined for a period of time. When feeling threatened, they tend to disappear, run away. This can be heartbreaking, to think that you may have been the cause of driving a loved pet out of their home.
Not many of these occasions have a happy ending, although I know of one domesticated-previously-feral cat who disappeared for a week under these circumstances, and suddenly reappeared, apparently none the worse for the experience.
What if it doesn’t work?
A decent period of mutual adjustment is usually sufficient to counter any long-term animosity between cats and dogs.
But what if they don’t take to each other, or if the feeling of wanting to get to know you isn’t mutual? This could work either way but is probably more often associated with your cat feeling antagonistic towards your dog.
Does training help?
Dogs are by nature pack animals, and will usually bond in time with people and other animals in their “pack”. This emphasizes the importance of training your dog to respect the “Alpha Male” (in wolf packs, the leader or dominant male in the pack, which in the domestic context may not be a male!).
Training, in fact, is key to countering any aggression between your cat and dog. Cats, however, are notoriously averse to being trained.
Your best bet, then, is to train your dog to adapt to the cat. Most dogs are pretty savvy at avoiding the physical harm that they know a cat can unleash. In their own self-interest, they tend to steer well clear of a hissing, growling, bottle-brush-tailed cat.
And in most circumstances both cat and dog will call a truce to hostilities as long as they have their own space and, for the cat, a safe place in which to escape, eat, and nap.
For your dog, obedience to the “leave it!”, or similar, command, is vital. Come to think of it, obedience training for your dog (and its owner) should be a prerequisite for dog ownership, period (source).
Time to adjust to each other is vital, this may take weeks or even months, and sometimes the desired adjustment will never take hold. In these circumstances, in order to avoid fur flying, physical boundaries may be an effective way of demarcating territory.
This will depend on the layout of your home, of course, whether it be an upper floor for the cat and the ground floor and garden for the dog, or a baby gate to prevent the dog from going into certain areas, provided he’s not athletic enough to jump right over.
Synchronizing physical proximity of cat and dog with feeding times is one way of distracting them and providing a link between a satisfying event (feed-time) with the sounds and smells, and eventually sight, of each other.
Throughout these increasingly proximate encounters, make sure that dog (and maybe even cat) are leashed and able to be restrained at short notice. The “chase” instinct in some dogs is still strong!
What if your cat is a lost cause?
Just like people, some cats seem to be a law unto themselves. Remember that the personality of the animal trumps any influence which may be the result of breed or upbringing. Even cats raised from the same litter will grow up to be remarkably different in character. And some cats are just grumpy.
If you want such a cat to live in (relative) harmony with your dog, you’re going to have to accommodate and respect his or her personality. Separation is the order of the day, and since dogs are more easily trainable, they will soon learn to avoid the grumpy feline who idles her time away on the mistress’s pillow.
The only thing that grumpy cats learn is that hissing and scratching keep that smelly canine at a distance.
To avoid such confrontation altogether, and if you have any choice in the matter, take time to vet the history of the pets which you adopt.
With kittens and puppies, there isn’t usually any problem; they tend to want to play with whoever is at hand and will grow up to bond with the household.
The difficulty lies in integrating a new dog with an older cat. Has the dog had the experience of living with other animals, especially cats, before?
Teaching your dog to control its impulses to chase and to be his usual boisterous doggy self also helps. Try distracting the dog by giving him your attention, or with games and treats when the cat is in the room so that the cat becomes less fearful and resentful of the dog over time.
Most important, create that time of separation at the beginning of their relationship. It is often an unintentionally rough first meeting which spoils the relationship from the start and confirms the cat’s suspicions that this large and smelly intruder is unwelcome in her peaceful domain.
The myth of Dog-Chases-Cat
Many of us were raised on the stereotype of dogs chasing cats, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find this relationship depicted in cartoons of the day.
On the contrary, one of the most famous cartoon cats, Garfield, has a love-hate relationship with his dog-pal, Odie, but would never stoop to being chased (apart from being too lazy to run anywhere).
So, is dogs-chasing-cats a myth? Like much in this article, the answer is ambivalent. There’s no doubt about it, dogs do chase cats, and we’ve probably all seen it happen. But, of course, not ALL dogs chase cats, SOME dogs chase SOME cats but not others. Why should this be?
Let’s go back to genes: cats are descended from Arabian wildcats who were essentially loners. Dogs, on the other hand, descend from pack-hunting and social wolves whose instinct is to chase small prey, rabbits and such.
Even though chasing things has now become a game to the domestic dog, the instinct is still there, made all the more fun when the cat “prey” flees, of course.
So, the old expression “fighting like cats and dogs” does not necessarily hold true, the majority of pets seem to be able to adjust to their living arrangements, at least to a level of long-suffering tolerance.
The origin of the expression (to fight like cats and dogs) is obscure, although some have traced it back to Shakespeare’s play “Cymbeline” written in about 1610, where there is a reference to “killing creatures vile, like cats and dogs,” but this is doubtful.
Let’s look at some solutions to situations where cats and dogs cannot seem to get along.
For more details about why dogs chase cats, see video below:
The tale of Kitty and Winston
Remember Kitty, the cat, and Winston, the English Bulldog, from the start of our story?
Winston was about two years old and starting to pump testosterone when Kitty and Rosie and Harry (three cats, Rosie and Harry being siblings) were thrust into his household following a family emigration.
Winston was unphased by their arrival and continued to go about his happy routine. Kitty hated Winston on-site and made that plain by hissing and spitting whenever Winston got within spitting distance.
This didn’t happen often because (a) Kitty closeted himself antisocially in a bedroom and only appeared for meals, and (b) Winston knew what was good for him, so he tried hard to ignore this unfriendly feline.
Until one day something snapped between them, and 35kg-worth of fed-up bulldog pounced on the bad-tempered cat. It wasn’t pretty, but it was mercifully short-lived. Winston didn’t really have the heart for a fight and suffered anyway from a nasty scratch on his face.
The family was naturally upset at seeing their pets at each other’s throats and had to spend a lot of time resetting boundaries to ensure the animals could live together long term.
It just goes to show that cats and dogs require care and understanding. Much like people. They are as much a part of the family as, well, you and me.
Related Article: Why does your dog bark at you, but not your husband? Find out what’s wrong with your dog!