Cats and Dogs: Do They Get Along?

Research shows dogs and cats that live in the same house usually get along, but if helps if the cat is there first.

Cat and dog curled up sleeping together
Photo: Jiri Vaclavek/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Can cats and dogs ever get along? Isn’t there always a risk that the cat will become a furry snack, or the dog will get a scratch to the nose? Although we often talk about ‘cat people’ and ‘dog people’, in reality many of us are both, and want both as pets.

There’s some good news from a study by N. Feuerstein and Joseph Turkel, who looked at cats and dogs that live in the same home. They distributed a questionnaire to pet owners who had both cats and dogs, and also spent time in the house observing how the cat and dog interacted when in the same room. Where people had multiple cats or dogs, they chose the animal to observe at random, so they were just observing the interactions of one dog and one cat. They classified the behaviours on a six-point scale that included friendly, indifferent and aggressive behaviours.

In approximately 66% of the cases, the cats and dogs showed amicable behaviours towards the other animal. In about a further quarter, they were indifferent; they were aggressive in less than 10% of the cases. One important factor was the order in which the animals were acquired; dogs were more likely to be friendly to the cat if the cat had been adopted first.

Also important was the age at which they were introduced. They were more likely to have a friendly relationship if introduced at a young age, which for cats was less than six months, and for the dogs was less than a year old.

So if you are planning to get a cat and a dog, it makes sense to get the cat first. Of course, if you are adopting a dog from a rescue, you can find one that has already lived with cats, or at least has been tested to see if it is friendly towards cats.

One very nice finding from this study was that the cats and dogs often seemed to understand each other’s communication, even though there are differences in the signals they use. For example, a wagging tail is a sign of friendship from a dog, but of nervousness or impending aggression from a cat.

This did not stop them from getting along; the cats and dogs seemed to be able to read each other’s body language. The dogs had even learned a cat-friendly greeting. Cats often greet each other by sniffing noses, and the dogs in the study were observed to do this with cats. 

These nose-to-nose greetings occurred more frequently in the animals that had been introduced at a young age, suggesting that early exposure to the other species enables it to learn their communication signals. 

If you liked this post, you might like my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog calls it “The must-have guide to improving your dog’s life.” 

If you're a cat person, you might like to check out my book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. Dr. Sarah Ellis says, "Purr is definitely a book your cat would want you to read!"

Does your cat get along with your dog? Have you seen them do a nose-to-nose greeting?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Feuerstein, N. L., & Terkel, J. (2008). Interrelationships of dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis catus L.) living under the same roof. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113(1-3), 150-165.  DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2007.10.010

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