It’s no secret that cats and dogs have a history of not getting along.
Households with both cats and dogs can experience issues ranging from mild irritation and small squabbles to flat out attacking each other and serious injuries.
It is common for these fights to be loud, violent, and repetitive, hence the phrase “fighting like cats and dogs.”
Even our media is aware of the difficult relationship between these two species; cartoons, images, and videos of cats and dogs fighting are all over the internet.
Although it is normal for two animals in a household, especially those of two separate species, to squabble sometimes, excess or out-of-control fighting can create fear and tension for either animal.
Fear can also be caused by a lack of proper introduction and interaction between the animals at a young age.
The basic and most commonly understood reason that cats and dogs fight is miscommunication.
Although they are both highly intelligent and expressive species, their methods of communication differ greatly.
One of the most obvious signs of this miscommunication is seen in tail movement, which cats do primarily as a sign of aggression while dogs wag their tail when they are being friendly or excited (not always though).
Another difference is cats greeting each other while walking up to each other, and blinking slowly to indicate good intentions while dogs run to each other and avoid eye contact to appear friendly.
Vocalizations are also quite complex since cats purr when there is content and meow to communicate with humans, but dogs interpret purring as growling and they primarily bark or growl in negative situations.
These types of miscommunication can be major contributors to the fighting between cats and dogs, which ultimately leads to fear and anxiety for either or both animals.
Why Are Dogs Afraid of Cats?
Dogs may be afraid of cats due to negative past experiences where they often misinterpreted the cat’s wagging tail or body language such as a cat staring at a dog as well as vocalizations like purring which may be mistaken for growling.
Experiencing fear is a normal, instinctual reaction of an animal’s autonomic response system.
Fear is essential for survival; it allows an animal to understand any threats to its health or safety and react appropriately.
Although the average cat is not a significant threat to the average dog, the dog is likely afraid for a good reason.
Fear of the unknown or fear as a result of a bad experience in the past are two of the most common types of fear, even in humans.
Fear of the unknown is mostly seen in puppies, who simply haven’t experienced much of the world yet, or by adult dogs who were unfortunately not fully socialized and may now suffer anxiety in response to new stimuli.
Puppies are quick to adapt and bounce back from negative experiences much more easily than adult dogs.
For this reason, puppyhood is the best time to introduce your dog to new things such as people, places, and other animals like cats.
After seeing and interacting with a friendly cat multiple times, barring any major incidents, your puppy will not be afraid.
Older dogs who have not ever seen a cat are a mixed bag as far as the potential ease or hardship involved in desensitizing them.
Some older dogs may feel excited and confident in themselves and fearless with their beloved owner nearby, while others may react with caution, apathy, or even aggression.
If your dog is scared of kittens, chances are it’s because he was never desensitized to them before and is scared of the kitten’s jumpy behavior or vocalizations.
To your dog, they are strange and mysterious, they get into trouble and climb on everything.
Unless your dog has suffered in the past with bad kitten experiences, your dog will likely warm up to the new kitten in a few short weeks.
Following the steps below to properly introduce your dog to a kitten can help both animals get comfortable and build a healthy relationship in less time.
If you find your dog is still fearful weeks later, or the animals are not adjusting well, it may be best to seek help from a professional.
Recommended Reading: Introducing a puppy to a cat
A harmonious relationship where the dog isn’t scared of your cat starts with the proper introduction and gradual desensitization as well as conditioning a positive response.
What you should do in short:
- Introduce your dog to pet-friendly cats outside your home
- If you plan on adding a cat to your family, make sure the cat is a kitten or at least a calm adult
- Properly introduce your cat and dog (sniffing, supervised interaction, etc.)
- Reward your dog for every positive interaction
- Remove your dog if you sense stress
One of the most common scenarios is after getting a new puppy and wanting to ensure he or she will not be afraid of cats in the future.
Firstly and most importantly, you should begin exposing your puppy to dog-friendly, well-behaved cats or even kittens as soon as you bring him home.
This should be done multiple times, lasting at least a few minutes each time, and if possible, avoiding conflict.
Most puppies love cats, and their first instinct is to pounce, bark, or attempt to engage in play.
After they have met a couple of times, your puppy will have no fear of cats because they have gotten familiar with them.
Get the introduction right!
In scenarios involving both cats and dogs in your home, the most important interaction will be their initial introduction.
This process should be conducted in slow steps consisting of at least four steps:
- Leashed introduction
- Supervised interactions
- Unsupervised interactions
The weeks and months during which these initial interactions take place will be the foundation for the relationship that they will have for the rest of their lives.
It’s important to only move at a pace that is comfortable to both the cat and dog, and if necessary return to the previous step until all parties are comfortable moving forward.
In the first phase, the cat and dog will both be in the home, but they will remain separated on a rotating basis.
This will allow both cat and dog to get familiar with each other’s scent, sounds, and interactions with the people of the household.
You will know that the animals are ready to meet face-to-face after the initial excitement has worn off and both animals are calm and content; eating, drinking, and otherwise behaving normally.
However, if your dog seems obsessed with getting to your cat, digging at the barrier, or barking incessantly, you may need the help of a professional trainer to safely introduce the two animals.
The second step of introducing your cat and dog is to allow the animals in the same room, whilst keeping the dog on a leash.
You should encourage the animals to interact with each other without becoming overly excited or aggressive.
These leashed interactions should continue until the dog is calm and ignores the cat, and the cat is calm, eating, and using the litter box normally.
If there are any signs of fear or aggression displayed by either animal, you should return to the previous step until both animals seem comfortable.
Remember that the animals should still be separately confined while you are away from the home to prevent unsupervised interactions.
For the third phase of the introduction, you should bring your cat and dog into the same space and allow them to interact freely.
It is important to monitor your animals, and be prepared to step in should you need to, without hovering over them.
Your pets must learn how to share the same space and get along without you being constantly beside them.
They will learn what the other animal is comfortable with, how to interact without causing conflict, and even how to appropriately handle any conflicts that do arise.
The fourth and least hands-on step of the process is simply to allow your animals to interact without your supervision.
This step should only occur once your cat and dog have been interacting under supervision without issues for a significant period of time.
You should feel certain that neither animal will be able to seriously injure the other, and that ultimately, they will get along.
It’s important to understand that fear is a normal and instinctive response to things in your dog’s environment.
Just because you think your dog should not be afraid of something doesn’t mean that he will see it that way.
The best way to react to your dog’s fear is to calmly remove him from the situation without acknowledging it.
You should not try to console your dog, yell or jerk him around, or encourage him to interact with the source of his fear.
After your dog is removed from the situation, you can engage with him like normal and refocus his attention.
After pinpointing the source(s) of your dog’s fear, you should work with him to turn similar situations into positive experiences through training, utilizing a dog trainer if necessary.
The most common reason for a cat to begin bullying another animal in the house is because now he feels like he has to compete for territory, food, and or attention.
There are a couple things you can do to discourage your cat’s behavior, effectively reducing, or even eliminating the bullying.
Firstly, you should never get physically involved in fights, physical punishment will damage your relationship with your cat, and you’ll likely get harmed in the process.
Avoid the occurrence of these situations and calmly interrupt any brooding conflict.
It’s important to come to your dog’s aid by providing them a safe space to retreat to and strongly discouraging any bullying.
Other tips include providing plenty of attention and resources to both animals, avoiding changing their environment, reducing their stress, and calming aids like pheromones.
In some cases, you may be able to modify your cat’s behavior using treats or toys, but in more difficult scenarios, a behavioral specialist may be needed to stop your cat from bullying.
Because each animal is an individual and can react differently, it can be difficult to know how long it will take your dog to get used to a cat.
Sometimes it only takes a matter of days for the animals to begin settling down, but alternatively, there are cases in which the dog never gets used to the cat.
Typically, the “getting acquainted” process takes two to three weeks, but it can take several weeks following that for the animals to be truly getting along.
You should carefully monitor your pets’ behavior and interactions throughout their lives to best gauge how comfortable they are around each other, and whether or not their relationship appears healthy.