Can Cats and Dogs Get Along?

The shifting dynamics of my multi-species pack.
By JoAnna Lou, November 2009

From the comic strip, Garfield, to the movie, Cats & Dogs, the feud between felines and canines has long been engrained into our culture. These days, with so many multi-species households, it seems as though the notion of furry mortal enemies has become more of an old wives tale. 

I never gave much thought to the canine feline relationship since my pets have always gotten along pretty well. But recently, a shift in my pack’s behavior got me thinking about what influences the dynamic between cats and dogs. 

Our first family pet, Mew-Mew, joined our family 18 years ago. Mew was very dog-like, tolerating the silly outfits we made him wear and learning how to sit and give his paw on cue. 

Eight years later we decided Mew needed a friend and adopted a second kitty. Izzy, in her cat-like glory, was Mew-Mew’s polar opposite. After a few initial scuffles they became inseparable, although Izzy was never one for costumes or tricks.

Four years ago, much to the chagrin of the cats, we welcomed our first dog into our home. The three of them got along pretty well, aside from Nemo’s unsuccessful attempts to get the cats to play. He would follow the cats around, lick their faces, and offer play bows with the tireless persistence of a puppy. 

Two years later, recognizing that Nemo needed a canine playmate, we added Ella to our growing pack. Bringing out the sheepdog in each other, Nemo and Ella began to playful herd the cats. But once the dogs got their energy out, they would peacefully join the cats in chilling out by the sunny porch door.

Then last August, Mew-Mew passed away. For a few weeks Izzy seemed to be depressed, roaming around the house, moaning, and spending less time lounging in the sun. The dogs seemed unaffected, until last month when I started to notice that the dogs were picking on Izzy, barking at her and chasing the poor cat into the basement.

Generally, the three of them still get along, but now Nemo and Ella bark and charge at Izzy several times a day, which they never did before. Fortunately the dogs don’t actually do anything once they get to her, and Izzy doesn’t seem scared, but it’s been a drastic change in their relationship.

When a pet passes away, it’s natural for the pack hierarchy to change, but I never expected the dogs’ behavior towards Izzy to change so much. I think that the crew viewed Mew-Mew as “top pet,” since he’d been around the longest, and perhaps he instilled some sense of order. Because research on animal behavior and emotions is only just beginning to get funding, not much is currently known about the relationships between pets.

For those of you with multi-species households, do your cats and dogs get along? Have you ever had a shift in behavior as a result of a major event, like a pet passing away?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.