Fighting furry furies?

Dogs and cats don't always have to fight like cats and dogs


“I have three cats, but I’m thinking of getting my first dog. Are dogs and cats really natural enemies?”

“I have two dogs and am thinking of keeping a stray kitten that has been hanging around. Can I expect trouble?”

Dogs and cats have been part of family lives for thousands of years. The dog came first, about 10,000 or more years ago, and the cat followed about 5000 years ago, when Egyptians enticed him to dine on rodents that ate the grains stored in silos. Both have played major roles in the development of civilization: the dog as willing helper, companion, and guardian; the cat as roommate, mouser extraordinaire, and enigma. Dogs earn such descriptions as faithful, affectionate, and courageous; cats are aloof, elegant, and often devilish. Dogs are pack animals, cats are loners, but each species touches something in humans that is unreachable by the other.

Physical differences are obvious. All domestic cats are cut from a similar cloth. Although there are minor variations in coat type, head and body shape, and size, cats lack the depth and breadth of differences found in dog breeds. The tiny Chihuahua with its smooth or long coat and big, pointed ears is as much a dog as the huge Great Dane, but a child unfamiliar with either may not recognize them as the same species. Cats don’t fool anyone — at least with their appearance.

Are they enemies?

The idea that dogs hate cats may have been born because dogs chase cats and grew because cartoons depicted ongoing battles between the two species. Or it may have been generated because some dog people strongly dislike cats and some cat people disdain dogs. However, dogs and cats can live peaceably as long as owners understand the behaviors of each.

Both dogs and cats are predators. Cats pounce on anything that moves — mice, butterflies, birds, grasshoppers, and feathery toys waved on the end of a stick. Dogs chase anything that moves, especially if it squeals, hisses, or otherwise mouths off. If the cat triggers the dog’s prey drive, the dog will chase. If a medium-to-large dog catches the cat, it can easily kill it by grabbing and shaking.

Kittens and young cats practice their hunting skills on people feet, curtains, bedspreads, plants, and dog tails. They hide under chairs and tables, dart at the “prey” hissing and spitting and clawing, and hurry away, sometimes with jerky jack-knife movements or agile leaps and bounds, sometimes with breathtaking grace and beauty. Dogs often bristle at such challenges, leading to a merry chase through the house or yard. Households with both species of pets can solve this problem by keeping them separated if necessary.

In some cases, a resident cat will isolate itself when a puppy is added to the family. In other cases, cats and dogs never get used to each other. In still other cases, cat or kitten and dog or puppy play together and build a friendship that finds them curled up together in a crate or bed and drinking out of the same bowl. The type of relationship developed in each household depends on the personality of the animals and the understanding of the owners.

Behavior differences

Cats are independent creatures. The least independent cat is more independent than the most independent dog. Cats exude an aura of self-confidence, of mastery over their territory and its inhabitants. Most cats do not deign to obey commands, and if they do, pleasing a human is probably the last thing on their minds. Fido is driven to fit into a family hierarchy; Felix could care less as long as his basic needs are met.

Cats are physically and mentally capable of exploring their surroundings in great detail. Dogs are physically clumsy in comparison, for their bodies are not as agile and they are mentally tuned to different stations — they concentrate on dominance and submission, play, and keeping track of the people in their lives instead of exploration. As pets they can complement each other well for those families that need or want the independence of a cat combined with the faithfulness of a dog.

Integrating cat and dog

For details on introducing a kitten to a high-prey-drive dog, see “Making peace between dogs and cats” by Vicki DeGruy.
Norma Bennett Woolf

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