It’s an age-old rivalry played out in comic strips, commercials, movies, Disney cartoons, and more.
The war between cats and dogs is as old as the hills.
But why do they fight so much, and why are they afraid of dogs?
Why Are Cats Scared Of Dogs?
Cats are afraid of dogs because of instinct, socialization, common sense, and the effect of past traumatic events with dogs.
But, surprisingly, cats and dogs can have positive relationships and be good friends, especially with enough training.
As a pet owner or someone considering bringing a cat and a dog together, it’s essential to understand what brings out the fear response in cats when encountering a dog and the steps you can take to minimize that fear.
This article will discuss what causes dog-related fear in cats and how we, as pet owners, can minimize the impact and stress of that fear.
The Role of Instinct in Cat and Dog Relationships
Despite thousands of years of domestication, cats are still largely instinctual creatures.
The term “scaredy-cat” probably rings true for anyone who has observed cat behavior. However, being scared is sometimes a misinterpretation of a cat’s normal instincts.
Cats are often shyer than dogs and approach new things with timidity and caution.
Dogs can sometimes be seen as almost the opposite.
Many dogs enjoy meeting new people and are excited about the prospect of going outside their homes.
Cats are also pretty territorial, especially if a dog enters their home.
This might cause the cat to exhibit fearful or even aggressive behavior toward the dog.
This aggression or fear isn’t a cat misbehaving—it’s merely the cat’s fear-based territorial instinct in play.
Generally, cats are solitary creatures, while dogs prefer being in packs.
If you have spent time with a cat, you can probably attest to this, especially if you have lived in a multi-cat home.
Often, the only time that cats come together with other cats is for mealtime.
Keeping these differences in mind when introducing a dog and a cat is key to ensuring both the cat and the dog are comfortable.
Creating a safe space for dogs and cats to meet means giving the cat space when it appears uncomfortable while also ensuring the dog is not in a situation where it might get attacked by the cat.
Of course, both animals need to have escape routes, just in case.
WAIT – Before we go any further, you might enjoy this cute video full of cats and dogs doing there thing.
Just click the video to play:
NOTE – You might also like to take a look at this post, which explains why dogs chase cars?
Socializing Cats and Dogs
Whenever you see the rare photo or video on social media of a dog and a cat snuggled or playing together or simply in the same space, it is probably safe to assume that these two pets were socialized together.
Most of these close dog/cat bonds come from a deliberate situation where the two animals have been raised together or special care has been taken to allow a bond to form over time.
However, many cats don’t live in households with dogs and may not have many socializing opportunities.
This lack of socialization with dogs at an early age can bring about fear in cats.
If they are not used to how dogs interact with their environment, meeting a dog later in life can be a scary, overwhelming experience that could potentially lead to a dangerous situation if unsocialized dogs and cats are put together.
NOTE – You might also want to read this post answering the question: what do dogs think of cats?
How To Socialize Cats and Dogs Safely
Socializing a cat with a dog to eliminate fear takes time and patience.
The cat and the dog should be well supervised, with pet owners paying careful attention to both animals’ behaviors and removing them from situations where they might become overwhelmed, stressed, or uncomfortable.
Owners need to monitor stress responses carefully so that they don’t turn into aggression on the part of either animal.
Taking things slowly and following the needs of both animals is critical, especially when introducing two pets that will eventually need to live together.
A common way to start socializing a dog and a cat is to give each pet its own separate space, which won’t be invaded by the other.
For example, you may want to divide your home into two areas.
After that, you can proceed to put the cat and the dog in a room for short periods.
Make sure to choose a neutral space and keep both animals under control—especially the dog.
Don’t try to get them near each other yet. Let them get used to one another’s presence.
You can make these encounters progressively more intimate, eventually letting them smell and touch each other.
If all goes well, you’ll get to a point where your pets can share the same spaces without supervision.
While there are many guides on how to do this successfully online, the best guide is yourself and your knowledge of your pet’s preferences and body language.
NOTE – You may like to read this post asking the question: what do cats think of dogs?
Past Traumatic Experiences Can Increase a Cat’s Fear of Dogs
Another source of fear in cat-dog relationships can come from past traumatic experiences.
If either animal has experienced aggression in an encounter with the other species, this can result in lasting, life-long fear that’s hard to undo.
This is especially true for experiences when the dog or cat was young.
You should pay special attention to this when dealing with a cat from a shelter who might have been a stray.
It might not have been anything you did. The damage might already have been done.
Acknowledging that this fear might already be present in the animal is essential to having a successful encounter with the other species.
Helping Cats Through Past Dog-Related Trauma
Socialization is a crucial step to supporting cats in having positive, low-stress encounters with dogs.
However, for some cats with past trauma, socializing them with dogs is extra challenging.
The goal is to make new dog experiences as positive as possible to help the cat overcome that fear.
Associating meeting a dog with treats and toys is an excellent way to encourage positive association.
Keeping these meetings brief but frequent is also helpful for cats who associate dogs with negative experiences.
Finally, for cats that don’t seem to be able to interact with dogs at all, it might be helpful to seek the help of a trained animal behaviorist to tackle any root causes, and you might just have to accept that your cat will never stop being scared of dogs.
Final Notes On Cats Being Afraid of Dogs
While there are many reasons why cats are afraid of dogs, including previous bad experiences, natural instincts, and healthy common sense, there are also many ways that we can minimize the impact and stress of that fear and create safe encounters between both animals.
Introducing cats to dogs at an early age, rewarding positive cat/dog behavior, and not rushing interactions are all easy steps we as pet owners can take so that our canine and feline companions develop a positive, low-stress relationship.
So this is the end of my post looking at the question – why are dogs afraid of cats?
Thanks for stopping by to visit The Factual Doggo!
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!