There’s a reason for the familiar phrase, “fighting like cats and dogs.” Historically, these two extremely popular pet species have had, shall we say, a fraught relationship. While it’s certainly possible for cats and dogs to co-exist and even be happy bedmates, tension between these two very different species more often appears to be built in.
In short, they’re frequently arch-enemies on sight.
But not always.
The trick is to know which dogs may be willing to accept and get along with cats. The issue comes up frequently at animal shelters, where prospective pet owners often express concern about a dog under consideration. If there’s already a cat in the home, prospective owners naturally wonder if it would be a mistake to introduce a new pet into the mix.
It’s wise to consider how well pets might—or might not—get along. Dogs are highly social pack animals. But cats are essentially solitary creatures by nature. Asking a pet cat to accept another cat into the home is one thing. But bringing a dog into the mix, with no prior consideration for the animals’ willingness to get along? That’s asking for trouble.
Even so, many pet owners have successfully raised cats and dogs together with no problems. Some—but not all—cats and dogs are content to live together in peace. Our advice is that the best way to ensure this harmonious situation is to bring a new kitten home first, and then introduce a puppy. Dogs become socialised in the period between 2 and 16 weeks of age, and sharing space with a kitten during this period is almost certain to ensure they’ll get along fine. The puppy will simply recognise his cat companion as another member of the pack.
Can Cat-Friendliness Be Predicted?
If you’re considering adopting an older dog from a shelter—a noble thing to do under any circumstances—you may have a trickier time choosing a dog capable of getting along with existing cats in the home. Experts assumed the scent of a cat would set off alarms among dogs that are not inclined to view cats as anything other than The Enemy. Barring that, they assumed the mere sight of a cat could raise the hackles of a cat-averse dog.
To test that theory, Christy L. Hoffman, PhD, visited animal shelters and tested dogs’ responses to a variety of cat-related cues. “When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is 'what is the dog like with cats,” Hoffman said. While there are certain standardized assessments to predict dogs' behaviours around people—and other dogs—no such tests have looked at a dog’s willingness to accept cats. “Our study investigated what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like,” Hoffman said.
Dogs’ sense of smell is estimated to be anywhere from ten thousand to one hundred thousand times more powerful than humans’, so it’s only natural to expect that the distinctive scent of a feline would be the cue that would set off alarm bells for a cat-unfriendly dog. But that proved not to be the case. Dr. Hoffman and her team approached shelter dogs with a variety of cat-related stimuli; the scents, sights and sounds of cats. To simulate the sight of a cat, investigators used a lifelike cat doll. The responses were entirely unexpected.
What’s that Screeching Sound?
"As humans, our first thought was to test dogs' responses to the cat doll because it visually resembles a real cat. However, our findings suggest that dogs are relying more heavily on another sense, hearing,” said Hoffman. According to her study, shelter dogs were unmoved by the sight—or scent—of a cat. But the sounds were another story. Dogs known to respond aggressively—and negatively—towards cats paid the most attention to sound recordings of cats. Hoffman concludes that simply playing cat sound recordings at the shelter might give potential owners some strong clues about their attitudes towards cats. “Indeed, it may be possible to use audio recordings of cats to assess which shelter dogs are likely to fare well in a home with cats or other small animals," Hoffman concluded.
Who knew? Taking a smartphone recording of your cat to a shelter and playing it back to the dogs you find there could help you identify which dogs may be content to hang out with cats—and which ones could pose a dire threat to your precious feline.