Can Cats and Dogs Be Friends?

dog and cat
Dog and Cat, Elemenoperica, Morguefile

The findings of a study conducted by Professor Joseph Terkel and graduate student Neta-li Feuerstein of Tel Aviv University indicate that cats and dogs can get along well, provided certain conditions are met.

Conflicts between cats and dogs often result from crossed signals. For example, a dog wags its tail when happy, whereas a cat with a swishing tail is angry. A dog may perceive the moving tail as a friendly, welcoming signal, whereas the cat, which has been warning the dog off, feels threatened by its advance and lashes out.

Despite these differences in body language, Terkel and Feuerstein found that in nearly two-thirds of multi-pet households that included both cats and dogs, the pets were good friends. In many cases they had even learned to read one another’s signals and thus bridge their cultural differences. In other words, dogs had learned to speak “cat” and vice-versa. Cats and dogs in harmonious households often slept together, played together, and even groomed one another.

The study found that in an additional 25% of multi-pet households, cats and dogs had established a peaceable indifference to one another. They were hostile and aggressive toward each another in just 10% of multi-pet homes.

A new study by Thomson et al. (2018) yielded similar findings, with 80% of pet owners saying their cats and dogs were comfortable with each other and only 3% saying they hated one another.

Cat Breeds That Get Along Best with Dogs and Other Pets

Animal Planet has rated cat breeds based on how well they tend to get along with other pets. Of course there will always be exceptions because not every cat of a given breed will have all the characteristics of that breed, and individual cats may have had positive or negative experiences with dogs.

The highest compatibility ratings went to the Manx and its long-haired counterpart, the Cymric, which received scores of 9 out of 10 for their ability to integrate within multi-pet households. Manx and Cymric cats are tailless or have very short, stubby tails. They are often described as doglike for their willingness to play fetch and ability to adapt well to vehicle travel. These cats tend to be relatively adaptable in general and less traumatized by change than cats of most other breeds.

The following cat breeds also received relatively high scores of 8 out of 10 for their ability to get along with other pets:

    • American Curl
    • American Shorthair
    • Birman
    • Exotic Shorthair
    • Himalayan
    • Maine Coon
    • Ocicat
    • Persian
    • Ragdoll
    • Siberian
    • Sphynx

This is quite a varied group, ranging from the ultra-intelligent Sphynx to the laid-back Persian to the hardy American Shorthair. What they have in common is that they all tend to be relatively easy going and tolerant.

Cat Breeds That May Have Difficulty Getting Along with Other Pets

Animal Planet rated the following cat breeds just 5 out of 10 for their ability to live happily with other pets:

    • Abyssinian
    • Balinese
    • Burmese
    • Colourpoint Shorthair
    • Devon Rex
    • Egyptian Mau
    • Javanese
    • Korat
    • Oriental
    • Russian Blue
    • Siamese
    • Singapura
    • Somali

Many of these breeds are derived from the Siamese, a highly intelligent but sensitive breed. Others, like the Korat and the Russian Blue, tend to be timid and prone to startling, so they may have difficulty with rambunctious dogs.

The Cornish Rex, a curly-coated breed, received a score of just 4 out of 10, and the Bengal, a wild-cat hybrid, came in at the bottom with a rating of 3 out of 10. Although these breeds may have difficulty adapting to multi-pet households as adults, if they are introduced as kittens (ideally at around 12-16 weeks of age), they have a much better chance of integrating well.

Some cat fanciers disagree with Animal Planet ratings. For example, many fans of the Devon and Cornish Rex assert that these are dog-friendly breeds, as long as the dogs in question are cat-friendly.

How to Increase the Likelihood That Cats and Dogs Will Become Friends

The Terkel and Feuerstein research findings indicate that the greatest likelihood of cat-and-dog friendship occurs when the following conditions are met:

    • The cat is adopted first.
    • The dog is adopted at less than a year old.
    • The cat is under 6 months old when it meets the dog.

However, there have been plenty of positive cat-dog relationships established even when these conditions were not met. To increase the likelihood that pets will become friends, it is very important to handle the introductions properly, particularly if both pets are adults.

How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

Cat and Dog
Cat and Dog, Rufus Sarsaparilla, Wikimedia Commons

The key to a smooth introduction is to ensure that the cat doesn’t feel threatened. Dogs are natural predators of cats, so unless they’ve had prior positive experiences with dogs, all but the most laid back cats will feel threatened by the introduction of a new dog. The way in which the two pets are introduced can have a significant effect on their future interactions, so it’s important to do the right things when you first put the two animals together.

Choosing a dog

There is a risk that the dog will attack the cat. Dogs that have lived with cats previously usually get along well with them, but a dog with no prior cat experience may behave unpredictably. In the case of a puppy under 3 months old, the risk is relatively low, but with a bigger dog, you’ll need to ensure the cat’s safety.

If you’re adopting a dog from an animal shelter, you can request that the staff check the dog’s behaviour around cats before you make your final decision. If adopting the dog from another owner, ask the owner about any prior interactions the dog has had with cats. Ideally, the dog has lived with cats before, has a gentle nature, or is very young. A dog that has been raised with cats is unlikely to attack them.

If possible, start with a trial adoption to make sure that the dog is not inclined to be violent toward your cat before making a final decision.

Introducing a new dog to your cat

Keep the two animals separate until they are used to one another. Use a baby gate or some other type of barrier to confine the dog to one area of the house or apartment – a room or two. This will enable the cat to take the initiative in approaching the dog, which is important, as the cat is the one that will feel threatened.

Once the cat comfortably approaches the dog, the gate or barrier can be removed, but the first interactions should be supervised. Monitor their behaviour together during the initial meetings. Don’t let the dog bark, chase, or lunge at the cat, as this could destroy the potential for a good relationship. Use a short leash if the dog is excitable and watch the situation closely. Attacks can happen swiftly, and because she is much smaller, the cat can be seriously hurt during a brief scuffle.

The cat will usually only attack if the dog corners her, so preventing the dog from cornering the cat will reduce the likelihood of the dog getting scratched. In a worst case scenario, the cat may scratch the dog’s eyes, but corneal lacerations, when treated by a veterinarian, usually heal without any permanent effects.

When stopping the dog from chasing or barking, use commands or restrain him gently (don’t punish the dog because this can create a negative association). Similarly, the cat shouldn’t be punished for growling, hissing, or swiping at the dog, as she will develop negative feelings about the dog as a result. Reward both pets with treats and praise for interacting positively or even just being in the same room without behaving negatively toward one another.

Don’t leave the dog and the cat alone together until you’re sure they’re completely comfortable with one another. Dogs and cats can become the best of friends as long as the introductions are handled carefully.

Introducing a new cat to your dog

If you have a resident dog and the cat is the newcomer, all the same strategies should be used. The main difference is that the resident dog has established his territory and may guard food and other elements within this territory, which could present a risk to the cat. In this case, the dog should be retrained, if possible, to share his space. If this doesn’t work, the animals may need to be permanently kept apart using a gate or other barrier. However, most cats and dogs can learn to peacefully share a territory.

For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page. For more dog articles, see the main Dogs page.

References:

    • Animal Planet. (2010). “Cat Breed Directory.” Animal.Discovery.com.
    • ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist. (2012). “Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog.” ASPCABehavior.org.
    • Feinman, J., VMD, CVH. (1997). “Introducing New Pets to Resident Pets.” HomeVet.com.
    • Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine: (2008). “New Pets.” IndoorPet.OSU.edu.
    • ScienceDaily.com. (9 September 2008). “Dogs And Cats Can Live In Perfect Harmony In The Home, If Introduced The Right Way.” (summary of the Terkel and Feuerstein study).
    • Thomson, J.E., Hall, S.S., and Mills, D.S. (2018). “Evaluation of the Relationship Between Cats and Dogs Living in the Same Home.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior 27, pp. 35-40.

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