Chalk and cheese, cats and dogs, fish and bikes… Some things famously don’t get along! In fact, we humans have been saying the phrase “fight like cats and dogs” for at least five hundred years!
But why do dogs hate cats so much? Is it just an instinct built into them, or are there other factors at play with this furry feud? Let's take a look at whether or not this famous animal rivalry is real, and why on earth it might have started.
First of all, it’s not a given that dogs hate cats or vice versa. In fact, many dogs and cats can live together peacefully and even be the best of furry friends if they’re introduced correctly.
That being said, most dogs and cats get along like… well, cats and dogs. But why do dogs hate cats? Let’s take a look at the multiple theories that try to explain this furry grudge match.
Thousands of years ago, our pet’s wild ancestors would have had to compete with each other for food and territory. Naturally, that’s going to put them against each other!
How they lived out in the wild can also play a part in why dogs hate cats. A cat will live alone and can support itself, while a wild dog relies on its pack. So, if a dog was ever out on its own, it wouldn’t stand a chance in competition with a cat since they’re skilled solo hunters. It would also struggle to fend one off, since cats are more flexible, can climb or leap out of harm’s way, and have an extra set of weapons in the form of their sharp claws. On the other hand, dogs are often bigger than cats and if they’re in a pack, outnumber cats, so cats are just as hostile to dogs.
That means dog’s might have developed a natural aversion to cats, since they were competition and a threat out in the wild. Now your precious pooch has probably never had to live a day of its life out in the wilderness, but it’s possible they still have some instincts and genetic memories in their DNA that mean they know better than to mess with a moggy.
There’s a reason dogs are known as man’s best friend. Humans and hounds have lived together for tens of thousands of years. Cats, on the other hand, have only lived with humans for around 5000-10000 years and scientifically are only considered “half” domesticated.
Dogs are also generally more social and trainable. They’ve come to depend on humans much more to live, and recognise other species as part of their “pack”. And if a cat or dog meet, you’ll probably have a much easier job trying to keep the dog in a “stay” than a cat!
On the other hand, cats are slightly more wild. Not only have they been domesticated a much shorter time, we humans haven’t selectively bred them as rigorously as we have dogs.
Sure, there are different breeds of domestic cat, but they’re all a similar size, they look pretty similar, and humans haven’t bred cats to specialise in different jobs. Meanwhile, dogs can range from pocket-sized pups to huge hounds, and we’ve specialised breeds in different skills and abilities from sniffer dogs, to hunting dogs, and guard dogs.
Cats are just great at being cats, and are already excellent hunters, so humans never tried to do much more with them. We’ve just left them to do their own thing so they have kept most of their wild instincts, whether that’s hunting mice and birds, or running away from other predators like dogs.
A wild cat’s instinct is fight or flight when they encounter another predator, like a dog, so it’s no surprise even domestic cats swipe at a dog or run away at the sight of one. Even if your dog likes cats, it doesn’t mean cats have to like them back.
One of the main reasons we humans think dogs hate cats is because they chase them as soon as they see them. But this isn’t necessarily just because dogs hate cats, and might not even have anything to do with them being a cat at all!
Most breeds of dog are bred to hunt and chase prey. Even your adorable little Dachshund, who might not look like they’re even able to run, was once bred to hunt badgers!
From Whippets bred to chase rabbits, to Labradors who helped humans retrieve birds, and even voracious rat-catching Yorkshire Terriers. No matter the size, shape, or cuteness of your canine, they were probably bred to chase or hunt something.
Since dogs are bred to hunt smaller animals, it’s no surprise they have an instinct to chase anything small and furry. Sadly, cats fit that description. Even if your dog isn’t interested in hurting the cat, chasing them is still enjoyable and instinctive to them.
Not only that, but a cat is (usually) smaller than a dog, so Rover is a real threat to them. A cat’s first instinct when in danger is to run away and find somewhere high to hide. Dogs don’t have amazing eyesight, but they lock onto movement with laser-focus. So as soon as a cat sprints off, it triggers your dog’s instinct to chase.
So, your dog isn’t chasing cats because they hate them, it’s just because their instinct is to chase anything that moves quickly, whether that’s a frisbee or a feline.
Another reason why dogs hate cats might be because they speak a different language, and making friends is tough if you can’t even communicate! Obviously, meows and barks are different, but it turns out even their body language isn’t the same.
For example, we all know a dog's wagging tail is (usually) a sign of happiness. Yet in a cat, a wagging tail is a sign of agitation. That’s two VERY different emotions from the same bit of body language.
If your dog hasn’t grown up around cats, you can’t expect them to understand a cat’s way of communicating. Just like you wouldn’t expect to suddenly know German unless you grew up there or studied it. Dogs and cats might not get along simply because they don’t know how to communicate with one another, and get some very mixed messages!
Why dogs hate cats can also depend on the individual dog because of their personality and past experiences.
Turns out, our pets can remember things for a long time. And if your dog had a nasty experience with a cat at one point, they’ll remember it for years.
For example, if your dog met a cat as a puppy, especially during their socialisation period, and the cat hissed and swiped at them… They’ll probably think that cats are vicious, and remember that the next time they meet one.
Equally, some dogs are simply not as friendly or social as others. If your pooch’s personality is quite aloof, they probably won’t have any interest in making new friends. Especially if that is with a feline!
Many dog owners confuse puppy socialisation with socialising. However, socialisation isn’t about letting your puppy play with other people and dogs, it’s an important period of your dog’s life where you introduce them to new experiences and stimuli and teach them how to behave correctly around them.
If your puppy never met a cat in their socialisation period, then they will still be new and strange to them later in life when they do eventually meet one. In which case, your pooch will probably follow their instinct to chase or bark at the cat, which won’t be nice for the feline!
Worse still, your puppy might have chased a cat in the socialisation period, and if this was not corrected, they will then grow up thinking that’s what they’re meant to do with cats.
How cats and dogs behave around one another will also depend on their individual personalities.
Some dogs are super calm and sociable, and happy to get along with cats. Others are hardwired to hunt and would chase a cat as soon as they see one.
Meanwhile, some cats are confident and friendly and approach docile dogs without a worry, whilst others are more reserved and want nothing to do with Fido.
Your pooch and your moggy might get along really well, it all depends on their personalities and how sociable they are! It will also depend on how they were iintroduced to each other, and how well socialised they are.
So why do dogs hate cats? Turns out it’s a mix of instinct, competition, past experiences, and personality. There’s just something about cats that drives dogs barking mad, and something about Fido that puts felines on edge.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean all dogs hate all cats, and vice versa. Loads of dogs and cats can get along well and even live peacefully together if they’re introduced correctly. And some of our furry friends are just naturally more laidback and happy to make friends with everyone, whether they’re human, hound, or feline.