The relationship between dogs and cats is famously antagonistic. Dogs have been chasing cats since the dawn of time.
It’s a relationship made famous by cartoons like Lady and the Tramp, where the Siamese cats run interference for the canine protagonist.
But why do dogs hate cats? We live with both cats and dogs, so we have more than usual cause to give this question some thought. Here’s what our research uncovered.
Do Dogs Hate Cats?
Aggrieved feline caricatures aside, do dogs genuinely hate cats? Over the years, our cat has put up with one dog with a penchant for chasing her, and another believes she’s his unsuspecting best friend. It’s hard to say which approach she finds more irritating.
So, do dogs hate cats?
The answer to this question is no. Dogs and cats are no more predisposed to hate each other than you are programmed to hate your next-door neighbor.
That makes a certain amount of sense. The dog currently courting our cat’s favor is a puppy with no prior knowledge of cats. He has no reason to think she’s his enemy, and he doesn’t treat her like one.
Nor is he an isolated incident. Dogs and cats can cohabit in a house without bloodshed. Some even do it amicably.
The secret to the dog-cat relationship is all in first impressions.
But if that’s true, then where does the myth that dogs hate cats come from?
Why Do Dogs Hate Cats?
By now, we’ve established that if you introduce them correctly, dogs don’t hate cats by default. But the myth that these two animals don’t get on has to come from somewhere.
When cats and dogs don’t get along, it’s usually because they cross signals about something. Here are some of the most common misunderstandings that can cause dogs to hate cats and vice-versa.
Miscommunication Is Rampant
A cat is sitting on your lawn. Your curious dog bounds up to it out of curiosity. The surprised cat swats at them with a paw.
Maybe the cat hisses. It’s a common scenario.
Your dog understandably translates these signals into signs of aggression by the cat. But that’s not necessarily the case. Cats have a deeply-ingrained sense of personal space, perhaps because they remain acutely aware that they are both predator and prey.
And since they don’t have the language to signal “stop” the way a human would, they find other ways to set boundaries.
When a cat hisses or bats its paws, it’s not always in aggression. Cats also hiss to indicate:
Usually, in these situations, a cat that swats at a dog initially keeps its claws sheathed, so no real damage occurs. Like hissing, it’s a warning sign for the dog to go away. Others include:
- Flattened ears
- Arched back
- Straight, puffed-up tail
Usually, we tell humans to think of these signs as cat sign language. It’s the equivalent of being tickled incessantly by someone who doesn’t speak your language. If you can’t make them stop, they lash out.
But dogs don’t deal in nuance. All they need is one good swat from a cat to decide this animal isn’t a friend.
However, if your dog has no prior experience with cats, that doesn’t always happen. In the case of the puppy we mentioned, he believes that when the cat boxes his nose, she’s playing. So, he comes back, and she bats his nose again.
In that scenario, if you aren’t vigilant, you end up with an increasingly antagonized cat who escalates the aggression. Since the dog is approaching out of a combination of curiosity and amity, they’re confused when the gesture backfires. The result can be a dog that hates cats.
Past Experiences Shape Your Dog’s First Impressions
You’ll notice that none of this describes deliberate animosity between dogs and cats. It’s a series of miscommunications between species that don’t know how to talk to each other.
The problem is that animals can be traumatized. It only takes one unfortunate encounter with an aggrieved cat to put dogs off all cats for the rest of their life.
So, why do dogs hate cats? It’s not necessarily by design. Sometimes, when you encounter a dog that hates cats, they react not to the cat in front of them but to a prior experience with cats.
This remains true even if the cat in question exhibits overtly friendly behavior.
One of the reasons why dogs hate cats is that if they have previously been on the receiving end of feline aggression, they are hardwired by their fight-or-flight instinct to anticipate animosity from all cats.
It’s possible to undo the trauma memories of animal aggression or human violence evoked in dogs, but it’s a long, complicated process. It gets exacerbated by the skittish, nervous behavior typical of a distressed dog, which cats read as potentially predatory. Even the friendliest cat misinterprets those nerves as threatening and switches their behavior.
If that happens, you get into a cycle where cat and dog perpetually misread the other as the aggressor in a situation where they are mutually anxious.
Dogs Are Natural Hunters
It’s also possible that the reason why dogs hate cats is because of dogs’ prey drive. This varies from dog to dog since many were bred for specific hunting purposes. For instance, Retrievers and Poodles were bred to fetch, not to kill, and to live reasonably amicably with cats—provided you introduce them correctly.
But other dogs were intended to find or kill other animals, like:
These dogs don’t necessarily hate cats. But they are hardwired to see all small, fast-moving, and furry things as potential prey. That manifests in chasing the cat.
Surprising no one, least of all cat owners, that kind of behavior goes over badly.
Jealousy and Territorial Behavior in Dogs
Finally, sometimes the answer to “Why do dogs hate cats?” has nothing to do with ancestral instincts or trauma.
Sometimes dogs hate cats because they perceive them as threats to an established relationship.
Of our dogs, at least one regularly chased the cat, not because he hated her but because he didn’t want her to take what he saw as his spot on our knees.
This kind of territorial assertiveness can also manifest around objects. It’s always a good idea to discourage possessive behavior in animals because it can lead to problematic behavior like resource guarding.
That’s easy to do if the thing under dispute is a favorite tennis ball, but it’s harder to control if your cat suddenly decides to sleep in the dog’s bed.
Since beds are often your dog’s safe place, their instinct is to protect them from interlopers.
That said, one of the best things you can do to integrate cats and dogs in a multi-pet household is to swap their bedding. It forces them to develop a herd smell, and eventually, the us-and-them mentality so infamous among dogs and cats breaks down.
However, until that happens, you’re back where we started this article—with two animals misinterpreting each other’s behavior.
Can I Persuade My Dog To Like Cats?
Anything is possible. But since the answer to “Why do dogs hate cats?” varies depending on the dog, it also depends on whether or not you can change your dog’s mind about cats.
Typically, the most successful dog-cat relationships develop if you introduce both animals when young.
That doesn’t have to be the case. It takes considerable time and patience to introduce dogs and cats in adult life, and many form companionable relationships.
However, you must remember that even if you persuade your dog not to hate a cat they live with, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be friends with every cat that crosses their path.
Usually, a dog bonds to a cat it cohabits with because it views it as a pack member. Cats it encounters on the street are interlopers, and whether your dog approaches them with aggression, caution, or friendly overtures will be colored by their experience with other cats.
If you want to persuade a dog to tolerate neighborhood cats, the best thing you can do is distract them at the moment. This sounds counterintuitive, but it discourages your dog from either chasing or approaching the cat and helps put them at ease.
Why do dogs hate cats? There are a variety of reasons. Most of the time, they don’t know how to talk to each other, and their interactions misfire.
Luckily, what most of these reasons boil down to is that these animals are not set out to become enemies forever.
While it’s still possible to persuade a dog to tolerate cats, it won’t happen overnight. And if part of the cross-species miscommunication happens because of a traumatic experience, you may be better off avoiding cats when your dog is with you.
Crucially, you know your dog. So, supervise any interactions they have with cats. If you can decode what goes wrong, you may be able to persuade them that cats aren’t the enemy and that they just speak a different language.