Skip to main content

Why do cats hate dogs? The answer isn’t all that simple

This is why your dog and cat may not be best friends

a dog and cat in a vet's hands
Nadia Vasil'eva / Pexels

“They’re fighting like cats and dogs” is a euphemism often used to describe sibling rivalries, marital strife, or disagreements among company executives. However, it stems from the idea that two of the world’s most popular companion animals, dogs and cats, prefer to feud with one another over forming friendships.

For folks who are distinctly “dog people,” “cat people,” or “not-into-either people,” whether this idea is accurate or not is irrelevant. For those who love — or have — both dogs and cats, it’s essential to determine: Why do cats hate dogs? Better question: Do cats truly hate dogs, or is this cliche a rumor?

The truth is that the answer depends on the specific animals. Some get along famously. Others … do not. Still, there are ways to help the two animals become friends or at least peacefully coexist under one roof. Now that we’ve scratched the surface, let’s dig into what causes cats and dogs to fight like, well, cats and dogs.

a cat and yorkie playing
Helena Jankovičová Kováčová / Pexels

Why do cats hate dogs? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The issue could stem from one or several problems, depending on the animal. However, history, preferences, breed, and prior experiences with dogs can factor into a kitty’s dislike of canines.

History

These days, some pet parents treat their cats and dogs like human children (or better). We cuddle our furry friends in bed and let them hog the blankets, endlessly research the best diets, and break the bank on holiday gifts and seasonal photo shoots. However, this love fest between humans and tiny beasts hasn’t always been the case.

Before dogs and cats were fully domesticated, the animals had to fend for themselves for food. There weren’t automatic feeders or pet parents that fed their animals at 5 p.m. like clockwork. Instead, the animals had to find their own food. With limited resources, food fights broke out. Feral dogs and cats may view one another as threats today, and even ones under the same roof with consistent resource access may engage in resource guarding.

Also, history may involve more nurture than nature. If a cat has had a previous experience with a dog that was poor, the feline may be turned off from the animal.

Dogs are pack creatures — cats are not

There’s a reason that dogs have gotten the distinction of (hu)man’s best friend: They’re pack creatures by nature. As the more social of the two animals, pups generally enjoy attention and playing. Cats, on the other hand, are solitary animals. Kitties hunt their food and are typically more inclined to spend their days chilling alone — hence why some tend to hide. A cat may view a playful dog’s attempts as a mild nuisance, at best, and offensive at worst.

Dogs chase — cats run

Another way these two animals are opposites: Dogs, particularly those bred for hunting, enjoy a good chase. Their ancestors hunted small animals through chase. These days, the chase can be more of a game, like fetch. However, cats generally don’t want to play along. In fact, given the choice between “fight” or “flight,” most cats will choose flight and run (again, hence the hiding). A cat may not “hate” a dog sibling when they hide instead of engaging in the game — the feline may just be setting those all-important boundaries we talk about as humans.

However, if a cat has to run away from treasured spots on the couch too often, the pet may start to detest the canine intruder. Some cats won’t bother running in the first place, though, and may put a dog in their place with a hiss or pounce on the first attempt at a game of “tag.”

The introduction went too quickly

Experts say slow introduction is critical if a family already has a dog or cat. Opening a kennel and expecting the two to hit it off swimmingly can trigger feelings of fear, threat, and territoriality. Most experts advise not having the two meet face to face in the early days but playing off both animals’ keen senses of smell by swapping items like blankets with the other’s scent.

Poor home organization

While family dinners are recommended for humans, you’re better off keeping a dog and cat separate during feeding time. A cat may feel territorial or threatened if a dog eats too close and vice versa. Similarly, keep a cat’s litter box in an area only they can access if possible, or train the dog to steer clear.

Two people holding up a dog and a cat
Alexander Grey / Pexels

Can dogs and cats get along?

Yes, dogs and cats can get along. The idea that the two are natural rivals is debatable, but the two animals can often be friendly or at least live safely in the same home. These tips can help you buck the idea that dogs and cats don’t mix.

  1. Ask questions. If you have a cat in the home and want a dog, ask the breeder, shelter staffor current pup owner whether the breed and specific canine get along with kitties. Shelters often cat-test a dog.
  2. Introduce slowly. Keep the two animals in separate rooms and do a scent swap using items like bedding with the other’s smell. After a few days, have the two meet through a gate. Keep the dog on a leash several yards from the gate. Watch body language and treat for calm behavior. When the two consistently interact calmly, you can remove the gate. Still, keep the dog on a leash and repeat. Eventually, you can graduate to supervised off-leash interactions but should wait a few weeks to start leaving the two out and about without you home (you’ll want to start with short intervals of unsupervised interactions, too).
  3. Get help. Whether you introduced the two too quickly or are experiencing hiccups, help is available. A vet can refer you to an animal behaviorist who can help you smooth out the relationship between a dog and a cat.
Two dogs and a cat together in a bed
Alexandra Bilham / Pexels

Final thoughts

Dogs and cats aren’t always best friends — at least not right away. Why do cats hate dogs? Fears of limited resources like food, territoriality, a desire to be left alone, and poor experiences with dogs may factor into a specific cat’s dislike of dogs. Humans can help the two animals get along. Slow introductions and separate spaces are tried-and-often-true recommendations from professionals. If you need further assistance, an animal behaviorist can help. Your vet can usually provide a referral. 

Editors' Recommendations

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
Best guard dogs: These 7 breeds will protect you with their life
These dog breeds are some of the best personal guards you'll find
An Akita sitting on the bed

Most dogs are loyal and loving animals. That’s why we know them as humans’ best friends. They’d do anything for us. For some dogs, “anything” means protecting us with their lives. And these breeds make the best guard dogs. For many of them, it’s instinctual. They’ve evolved to protect the family they love. You’ll notice these pups keeping a watchful eye on your property. They may bark to alert you when your company arrives or the mail gets delivered.
Remember, guard animals mean well. They aren’t trying to be vicious, but instead, they want to keep you and your home safe and sound. Some prospective pet parents want this quality in a dog. If that’s you, consider these breeds that make the best guard dogs.

What is the easiest guard dog to train?
There's a whole group of beasties that are often referred to as the guardian breeds — many of them make this list. Those animals with a predisposition toward defending and alerting will likely also learn their duties quickly. However, you'll also need a pup who has been properly socialized. Remember, you only want your guard to go into protection mode when there's a serious threat, not every time the mailman stops by.

Read more
Why do dogs dig into their bed? An annoying behavior, explained
This dog behavior is common, but can be cause for concern
a brown dog in a dog bed

You hoped your dog "dug" their bed when you spent hours researching the top brands with the comfiest products. Maybe your pooch took to their bed immediately — success. Alternatively, perhaps they decided your bed was a better fit, and you chose to roll with the choice. Regardless of which option you two settled on, you may notice your pet has an interesting bedtime and naptime routine: digging into their beds.

The digging is usually accompanied by some walking around in circles, nosing at the bed or any blankets, and repeating until they finally settle down and enjoy some sweet slumber. Why do dogs dig on the bed, though?

Read more
Why do dogs like peanut butter so much? It’s more than just taste
Here's why peanut butter makes a great snack for dogs
Dog licks its nose while sitting

Every pet owner knows that a small scoop of peanut butter goes a long way toward making you a better pet parent, at least in the eyes of your pooch. A spoonful of PB is the perfect snack for many owners when trying to get Fido to take a pill or do a trick, but why do dogs like peanut butter in the first place? Like so many things, it's mostly evolution with a little human encouragement along the way.

Why do dogs like peanut butter?
Interestingly, while wolves and domestic cats are carnivores, dogs are officially omnivores. That means that they eat all kinds of foods, including meat and fruits, nuts, and veggies. Your pet cat can't really taste sweet things, but your dog definitely can (you knew that though, right). So it's a safe bet that part of the reason canine pets crave peanut butter and other similar treats is their insatiable sweet tooth.
Additionally, nuts, even in butter form, contain quite a bit of protein. Like us, pets need this to thrive and feel full. Of course, our buds will naturally seek out food that's good for them, like high-protein snacks. Lastly, one theory suggests that nut butters might smell meaty to animals. If that doesn't resonate with you, remember dogs have a sense of smell AT LEAST 10,000 times ours.
We may never get a definitive answer on exactly why pups go crazy for this gooey stuff — perhaps it's the smell, the sugar, or the protein. Most likely all three. And best of all, your dog's favorite snack is always whatever you happen to be eating. Don't be surprised if they start licking their chops any time you reach for the peanut butter jar for your own sandwich.

Read more