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Can Cats and Dogs Be Friends?

Man sitting on sofa with domestic animals. Pet owner stroking his old cat and dog together.

Revised by: Lizz Caputo

Cartoons have long pitted dogs against cats in an endless loop of chases, with phrases like ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ fueling the rivalry myth. But let’s cut through the cartoon capers and get real—what’s the scoop on canine-feline dynamics? Are they destined to be frenemies, or is there room for peace in the pet kingdom?

According to the American Pet Products Association, in 2022, 22% of US homes had both dogs and cats together under the same roof – and that number is likely to rise with each passing year as pet parenthood gets more popular. Yet, the dance of harmony between these two species is nuanced, swayed by personality, history, and, yes, even their dinner. Let’s take a dive into the nature of this friendship and learn how to set all your pets up for success.

Cats And Dogs in Nature

The Menu

In their ancestral playbooks, dogs (canids) are versatile omnivores of the animal kingdom, chowing down on anything from berries to bugs to briskets. Meanwhile, cats (felines) are the protein connoisseurs of the pet world, obligate carnivores with a strictly meat diet.  This culinary clash could, in theory, spark tension, but in reality, it’s more ‘The Odd Couple’ than ‘Game of Thrones.’

In the shared ecosystem, this means that dogs (wolves, coyotes, etc.) may find themselves in competition for food with cats (cougars, bobcats, etc.). When resources are scarce or threatened, competition for prey can become acute–but neither animal is typically prey for the other. Within the family home, however, these dynamics should be a bit muted, as both pets know their next meal is guaranteed.

Loners vs Packs

The plot thickens when we consider their social lives. Cats, often painted as the lone wolves of the pet world, contrast with dogs, the eternal extroverts of the animal kingdom. These differing social calendars can influence their cohabitation dynamics but don’t necessarily dictate them. After all, every pet, like every person, is a unique blend of traits.

When it comes to bonding with humans, dogs might have the edge in the popularity contest, with their social natures and eagerness to please. Cats boast an enigmatic elegance that may seem aloof, but their affection is just as deep—it’s just delivered in more refined parcels. And while most cats won’t fetch your slippers, their headbutts and purrs are the utmost tokens of love. At the end of the day, one isn’t better than the other, but these differing characteristics may play into how smoothly a multi-pet household runs.

Introducing A Dog And Cat

So, you’re bringing a new pet into the mix? It’s all about the art of introduction. Here’s a quick guide to blending your pet family with grace:

  • Start with a Sniff: The Animal Humane Society recommends you keep them apart by a closed door for the first 3-4 days to allow a slow transition. In the meantime, swap their scents around so they can get a whiff of each other’s essence and acclimate to a shared environment.
  • The Menu: Feed your dog and cat friends separately in the beginning to avoid food fights.
  • Safe Spaces: Prep a zen zone for your kitty so they can escape should your dog become too overwhelming, allowing them to retreat to a safe space when needed. Ideally, this zen den would include cat food, fresh water, a clean litter pan, some comfy bedding, a few toys, and a high perch or hidey-hole to observe from a safe distance.
  • Neutral Ground: Introduce them in a shared space where neither has claimed top dog (or cat) status. Try to avoid making either pet feel trapped or unduly stressed. Keep escape routes in mind for your feline if they get frisky or frightened.
  • House Rules: Boundaries are important for everyone – human or pet! Make sure both animals know the dos and don’ts, reinforcing the ‘we’re all in this together’ vibe.
  • Patience is Key: Give them time to adjust at their own pace, watching for signs of stress or friendship. It can take time for everyone, including you, to settle in.
  • When in Doubt, Ask for Help. Your veterinarian is a great source of information and can help make the transition smoother for all!

Yikes! Behavioral Issues Between Cats and Dogs

So what if you follow all the rules and still the fur starts flying? It’s normal for pets to test boundaries as they figure out their places in the family hierarchy. Consistent supervision and intervention can guide them towards a peaceful coexistence. Watch for behaviors like urination, chasing, mild clashes, etc. These behaviors are extremely common during transitions and tend to lower in frequency as your pets bond with you and with each other.

When to Call in Reinforcements

Safety first, though. If tensions escalate beyond the occasional spat, seek professional advice to ensure all your pets can live together safely.

If you believe that one of your pets (newly introduced or not) is a real danger to anyone or any pet, contact your vet. They can recommend behavior tests that check for food aggression, aggression around other pets, hand shyness, and other behavioral factors, which may indicate a prior history of trauma or medical cause. Your vet can suggest some corrective approaches you can try at home or may recommend the heavy artillery: an animal behaviorist.

A Dog & Cat Friendship Success Story

Personal story time: As a former vet tech, I’ve adopted and fostered dozens of dogs and cats for years, with our current crew including Roxy, the shepherd-hound, and three cats, Leila, Yoly, and Bingley. Our introduction strategy? Slow, steady, and supervised. Even Roxy, with her cat-savvy background, needed time to adjust to Bingley, the newcomer. Today, after supervision as they worked through their differences, they share beds, toys, and the odd nose boop, proving that with a bit of patience and a lot of love, cats and dogs can indeed be friends.

Roxie & Mr. Bingley sitting on the bed together

In the end, while dogs and cats have their unique languages of love and leisure, they can harmonize under one roof. It’s all about understanding, patience, and a little bit of humor. So, if you’re contemplating adding a new member to your pet collective, remember: The journey may have its bumps, but the destination—a harmonious, fur-filled home—is well worth it. Just make sure you have enough lint-rollers on hand.

Cecily Kellogg

By Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg, Felix guest blogger, spent eight years working as a veterinary technician before applying her knowledge and experience as a writer.

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