Dogs and cats are mortal enemies, and will always hate each other—at least that’s what many believe. In fact, the antipathy between cats and dogs has fueled countless stories, movies, and cartoons. Even the phrase, "fight like cats and dogs," reflects a natural tendency for the two species to be antagonistic toward each other and engaged in an all-out war.
But is the hate between the two the truth or nothing more than a myth?
The truth is, both are correct. Dogs and cats don’t intrinsically hate each other, but they don’t necessarily like each other either. They would never seek each other out in the wild, and when they come together in a home, worlds collide.
Usually, their differences have more to do with territorial issues and predatory instincts, and even these can vary greatly between individual cats and dogs.
The root of most of their animosity for each other is the dog’s prey drive--dogs like to chase and cats don’t like being chased. Dogs evolved to chase and hunt small, fast-moving animals. Pursuing prey is in their genes, what we bred them for. And when a dog sees a cat scurrying away, its first instinct is to pull out all stops and dash after the fast-moving creature. This can result in an electrifying moment between the two if they come face-to-face with the cat hissing, arching its back, and swiping the dog. At worst, the dog could even attack the cat.
Whether the chase is serious or playful, before long, the cat will learn to dislike the dog who strikes such terror in its heart.
Some dogs have a higher prey drive than others and will always chase cats. Some might even show aggression. But often when a dog is raised in a home with a cat, the two can get along well and even become friends. They may even snuggle for a cozy nap. In this situation, the dog sees the cat as part of the family instead of prey.
Communication is the key to any good relationship, and that includes cats and dogs, but unfortunately, the two express different body language. You’ve heard that Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. The same could be said about dogs and cats. Imagine two people coming together who can’t speak each other’s language.
A dog is friendly and social, whereas a cat is naturally more aloof and independent, a solitary hunter. They have different ways of interacting with each other. Dogs like to move in for some close-up action, get their paws and nose in the action, but the cat is more comfortable with personal space and plenty of it. The dog can look, but it can’t touch. Cats don’t like having their space invaded.
A dog might want to dish out friendly kisses, but the cat only sees teeth and knows it’s out-massed. And cats don’t take kindly to the intrusive way dogs offer a greeting with a butt sniff. To a cat, a butt-sniff is a threat. If a dog tries to greet a cat this way, it’s liable to get clawed.
Likewise, a dog might see a friendly cat as threatening, especially if the cat has a tendency to scratch it in the nose. Such dogs may become more fearful or aggressive to any cat that crosses its path.
So what to do if you hope to add one or the other to the family? Introduce them to each other slowly. Make sure the cat has a safe zone where it can go to get away from the dog. You may also want to talk to your vet about ways to help your pets cope with the transition.
Dogs can see cats as prey and could be aggressive so don’t take chasing lightly.
In a domestic situation, however, the two have humans on their side. Though dogs and cats find each other’s behavior confusing, they can become tolerant of each other, even friends, with our nurturing and love. Understand that it can take a while before they can read each other, accept each other, and find a comfort zone. And sometimes the relationship will never be perfect, but, guided by a loving human hand, they should, eventually, be able to live together in peace.