Cats and Dogs: Friends or Foes?

How to keep the peace in a cat/dog household

The Hatfields and the McCoys. Rome and Carthage. The Capulets and the Montagues. Enemies all, never to know a moment’s peace. To that list, history must certainly add cats and dogs.

Or must it? Just what is it about this infamous rivalry that fuels such antagonism?

Time and evolution, it would seem. Cats and dogs weren’t always separate creatures; they emerged out of the dim past, over 40 million years ago, from prototypical carnivores known as miacids, who eventually split into felids and canids, or the branches of the evolutionary tree we now recognize as cats and dogs.

It was this biological split that began the age-old rivalry. But long ago, they were not separate; they were one. Perhaps, with help from us, they can be again, at least beneath the safety of our roofs.

Some of us cat lovers are “ambidextrous” when it comes to dog fancy. I know I am. And there are certainly many dog lovers who enjoy a cat’s friendly head butts, leg-slinks, gentle pawings, and its close connection to nature, as if it kept three paws here with us, and one still in the wild. But for many of us, our love for cats plus our fear of conflict and potential injury has prevented us from following through on this latent dog fancy. And the truth is, cats run, and dogs chase; this reality has stoked the stereotype for millennia.

It needn’t be so. Many pet-loving homes enjoy the canine and the feline experience, the pets finding their respective places, and even enjoying each other’s company. So then, what’s the secret to this inter-species peace?

Planning, patience, and luck, it would seem. The successful cat/dog home is a well-thought-out place, with an owner who understands both pets equally well, and who provides them with space, attention, guidance, and training.

The Perfect Match

Cats and DogsThe ideal way to begin a cat/dog love affair is to start afresh, with a puppy and kitten of similar age growing up together, oblivious to their infamous heritage. Though breed isn’t crucial, the relationship might fare better if the dog selected stays on the smaller side and has the potential for introspection and focus, rather than a penchant for non-stop roughhousing or predation. Sighthounds, terriers, and Arctic breeds, with their high prey drives toward small animals, can prove more challenging than other dog breeds, though even they can be taught the positives of feline love. The choice of kitten should lean toward outgoing, confident, and swashbuckling: a “doggish” kitten if you will. An abused stray or feral feline wouldn’t be a good choice.

When starting off with a kitten and puppy, territorial restrictions aren’t all that important, though you’ll need to restrict the litter box from the puppy, and make sure respective food dishes are off-limits to both. Luckily, cats have a three-dimensional potential, making it possible to locate their items up high and out of a dog’s reach.

Cats and dogs weren’t always separate creatures; they emerged out of the dim past, over 40 million years ago, from prototypical carnivores known as miacids.

The Resident Pet Scenario

Cats and DogsLet’s say you’re considering adding a dog to your currently cat-helmed household. This is the next best scenario to the kitten/puppy acquisition. Why? Because that teen or adult cat will, in every way, be lord of the manor, the maker of rules, and the arbiter of space and privilege. Your home is really its home. Any dog coming into that space will either bow to that cat’s will, or find itself in an everlasting fight for its life.

Your best bet? Bring a puppy into this cat’s world, and not an adult dog. A puppy will be completely subordinate to an adult cat, with no learned cat aggression, and no sense of dominance. The puppy will quickly learn boundaries from the cat, who will discipline it, school it, and gradually accept it as a childish waif of little threat. The puppy’s age and total lack of status will be its saving grace.

If you do bring a puppy into an adult cat’s home, you must take precautions. First, the cat must be outgoing, confident, and sociable, with no history of aggression with dogs. An indoor/outdoor cat will have a much harder time adjusting to the puppy than will an indoor-only pet, as it has almost certainly experienced some level of canine conflict on the outside, or at least cat-on-cat aggression. Any cat experienced in combat with another animal might not take kindly to even a puppy. You must also take great care that the puppy does not get injured, especially around the eyes, from errant claw swipes.

If bringing in a puppy, consider keeping her in a separate room for the first few days, letting the cat smell but not see her. Next, use a crate for the first real interaction. Place the puppy in a crate (preferably a plastic one with gratings too small for a cat to easily reach through), then open the room door and let the cat in to investigate. Once the initial dramatics are over, carry the puppy around the home with you, letting the cat intermittently smell its rear. Watch the cat’s rapport; if he seems calm and curious, place the puppy down for a minute and give it a go. If not, stay at this stage for a few days, then try it again. Eventually, take the training wheels off and let them have at it. But when you leave, keep them separate until you know they’ll be okay with each other. And, be sure to limit the puppy’s access to the litter box and the cat’s dishes!

The Sweet Old Dog Scenario

Many of us have older, well-adjusted dogs, with little if any cat experience, or with positive cat experiences somewhere in their past. This is an excellent opportunity to bring in a kitten. Use the same technique as above; keep the kitten in a separate room for a few days (no crate needed), allowing the dog to scent him out. Then open the door and place in the entry a baby gate high enough to keep the dog out. If the kitten is young enough, he won’t leap over the barrier, at least not for a week or two. Monitor the new housemates; see if the dog shows curiosity, and not aggression. Reward the dog when she remains calm and passive in the kitten’s presence. Remember: a timely nip of turkey meat can work wonders.

After a few days, if all goes well, carry the kitten out, and let the dog sniff his rear, then, with the kitten in your lap, let a face-to-face greeting occur. Pet and praise the dog, calmly. Holding the kitten in your lap will help convince the dog that all is well, and that you’re in charge of this most interesting event.

Over time, and as the kitten grows, allow them more and more access, and freedom. Chances are you will have succeeded in bringing Romeo and Juliet together, family histories to the contrary.


cats and dogsBy far the toughest matchmaking attempt would be the adult cat with an adult dog. Both have years of experience behind them, some good, some bad. Neither have had, to your knowledge, any positive inter-species history. The chances of aggression and injury for this scenario are high.

Can it be done? Sure—over time, especially if the pets are easygoing and confident, have no history of aggression that you know of, and if the cat hasn’t been a feral, stray, or indoor/outdoor warrior. But it will take patience on your part. The pets will need to be kept separate for a good while; the cat in one large room, the dog in the rest of the home. A week of simple scenting, followed by a full, see-through partition allowing them to see but not touch. Copious amounts of praise and reward to both, if they cooperate.

At this point, you’ll be able to predict any potential for success; if the dog, for instance, erupts into froths of predatory rage, it’s probably not going to work. Likewise, if the cat turns into a mindless warrior, the odds are stacked against you (though the cat won’t be as predatory toward the dog, and could actually find three-dimensional solutions to the issue). If it appears that they are more curious than combative, leave the barrier up for two weeks, and see what happens. If friendship blossoms, have at it.

One caveat; if you succeed in convincing your cat that dogs are her friend, realize that it may try to generalize this to other, less friendly dogs. So as a precaution, limit other dogs’ access to the home territory, for safety’s sake.

With luck, persistence, and the right dog and cat, the peace can be kept, and you’ll be able to enjoy both sides of the carnivorous coin.

Add A Comment


  • Kathleen Kelks

    This has not been my experience. I have a young, confident, indoor, neutered male cat who was very used to my old GSD who died more than a year ago. I got a new GSD puppy at 8 weeks old. She is now 14 months old. The cat and the pup chase each other still throughout the house until the cat has had enough and goes to one of his many safe spots up high or down the basement through the cat door where his food and litter boxes are located. I am hoping still that the two of them will eventually calm down. They have not hurt each other and seem to just be having fun, but it can get very chaotic here when the mutual chase is on. The Shepherd has a very strong herding instinct, naturally. She also follows me around constantly and wants to ensure that “her pack” are all accounted for. If the cat even attempts to go out the patio door, she immediately rounds him up and gets him back in, which is actually very helpful since he was a stray before I adopted him at 12 weeks from Animal Services. The Shepherd is purebred and a very loving pup, but look out backyard squirrels. This is my third Shepherd and they always have cleared half the backyard after a squirrel if one is in the yard. They have never succeeded in catching one. I expect a stealthy cat would have better luck.

  • Cheryl Aisoff

    I had cats for years, 2 -3 at a time. When Missy passed at 19 years of age I adopted my first ever dog, Sophie a terrier mix. She is 7 1\2 now was a stray rescue. 20 lbs. The rescue group I volunteer with matched us.

    I am currently fostering a cat that finished nursing her litter. She is svelt 6 lbs, was a stray but the rescues founder fostered her and her litter. She is good with dogs, background unknown thought 2 years old.
    Initial introductions were fine Sophie sniffing and wagging, kitty chirping at her, until kitty startled her and got her yelp bark.
    It’s just 5th day and mostly ignoring one another, plan is for adoption. I am encouraged that there has been no hissing growling or chasing.

  • Jacki

    I had two Chihuahuas, Scooter (a male) and Cleopatra Bones (a female). I was heartbroken when Scooter fell sick and ultimately died. But Cleopatra Bones remained healthy and friendly (btw, Scooter was a mean Chi, but I loved him). So with only one animal, now, I wanted another.

    My friend has a daughter who is connected with an organization which captures feral female pregnant cats, cages them in a foster home until the mom delivers. After the kitties are born, the feral moms are spayed and released back into the wild (well kinda wild, it’s the suburbs of Dallas).

    The kittens are placed into homes wanting a cat. I fell in love with Poppy, a black kitty with fluffy fur and an outgoing, playful personality. Actually I had only seen a picture of Poppy and told my friend’s daughter that I wanted her. Unfortunately someone else had already claimed the kitty. My friend’s daughter said, don’t worry, we’ll get you another cat. But I didn’t want another cat, I wanted THIS cat.

    So, no problem, I still had Cleopatra. HOWEVER, several days later, I got a call. The people who had adopted Poppy had a young child who, apparently, developed a cat allergy and they had to give Poppy back. Did I still want the kitten?

    I don’t know, can ducks swim? Can dogs bark? Can chickens lay eggs? OF COURSE I still wanted her.

    So at 6.5 weeks old Poppy came to live with us. During the ride back from picking her up, she whined, of course, but the minute I got her home, she hit the water bowl, I showed her the litter box, and she, I kid you not, took over.

    The first day she took up residence near my TV in my office. Cleopatra immediately started barking at this new resident, and I mean non-stop barking (at a safe distance) and Poppy did nothing but sit where she was and looked at Cleopatra as if “can I do something for you dog?” Didn’t run, didn’t hiss, just sat there and looked.

    Soon enough Cleopatra got the message and sat down in her bed with an ‘oh well, what has mom done now’ expression.

    Within a day or two Poppy was having fun swatting at Cleopatra’s tail, Cleopatra was chasing Poppy and they were having a blast (along with their mom).

    However, I must enter this caveat. Cleopatra is one of the ‘sweet’ Chihuahuas, Scooter was not sweet. I doubt this would have worked with Scooter, but it has been spectacular with Cleopatra. Temperament of both the doggie and the kitty will have a lot to do with the success of any such situation.

    So I’m a ‘bi’ – I love both canines and felines. But I have to add that if I ever need another pet, it will be a feline. I mean, come on, they take care of themselves, are a bit stand offish (as am I) take care of their own bathroom issues (as do I) and DON’T bark (and since I now live alone, I don’t either).

Recommended For You