The History of "Fighting Like Cats and Dogs"

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"They fight like cats and dogs!" is a common metaphor, but is it accurate? Do cats and dogs get along?

The myth of cats and dogs being at great odds with each other has become synonymous with arguing. And not just any kind of arguing, but fighting with great anger (with claws out, so to speak). But, dogs and cats living together doesn't have to be a complex situation.

Oftentimes viewed as "natural enemies" because of their diametrically opposed roles in the wild kingdom, cats and dogs cohabitated not-so-peacefully in Africa for thousands of years before they were domesticated by humans — at which time it seems that they continued to be at odds with each other.

However, this doesn't mean that your furry friends are destined to be archenemies forever. In fact, at times, they can be the best of friends!

Yellow lab puppy and a kittens sleeping togetherHow It All Started

The origin of the phrase "fighting like cats and dogs" is somewhat ambiguous, dating back a few hundred years, but the domestication of cats and dogs factors into the equation.

Evidence of dogs and cats living together dates back much further, about 12,000 years, to the time when cats were first domesticated as the world shifted to an agrarian-based economy and farmers benefitted from good mousers keeping rats and other pests out of food storage areas.

However, as new DNA research shows, dogs were domesticated as long as 40,000 years ago, mainly as hunting companions. Science News reports, "New data from ancient dogs indicates that dogs became distinct from wolves between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago." It is scientifically agreed upon that dogs have descended from wolves and that cats have descended from their African wildcat relatives. But how exactly did these two opposites start cohabitating?

In the early stages of the cat-dog relationship, cats remained independent and in out buildings where there was easy food access while dogs claimed a spot indoors, in front of the roaring fire. Then, notes Smithsonian magazine, despite retaining their "wild cat" characteristics, cats decided to get in on the action and domesticated themselves right into their pet parents' laps and into the dogs' territory.

To explain the seemingly natural antagonism between dogs and cats, Dr. John Bradshaw, an Honorary Research Fellow at the Veterinary School at the University of Bristol, writes in The Guardian that "competition over scarce scraps of food would have led to frequent fights" between cats and dogs roaming the streets. When facing a hostile situation, dogs have inherited a host of communication signals that allow them to communicate their intentions to other dogs, including when they are going to back down from a fight.Cats, however, are "solitary predators," as Bradshaw explains, that don’t have these sophisticated communication skills and neither cats nor dogs have inherited the ability to communicate with each other. . Can cats and dogs get along? Absolutely, though this depends on a number of factors such as how old they are when they first meet each other, what previous experiences they’ve had with other dogs/cats, their overall temperament, and how the introductory process is managed.


Despite the instinctual tendency toward being sworn enemies, the relationship between cats and dogs is more nuanced than getting into a skirmish at the food bowl.

Puppy and kitten playing on a couch


Let's face it — sometimes, cats and dogs aren't going to get along. This is especially true if one or both of the animals has experienced a hostile living environment prior to moving in with their loving pet parents. Your puppy pal may not appreciate a new feline friend, or vice versa, which can lead to aggression from one or both animals. Cats and dogs do not share behavioural signals, which can lead to plenty of miscommunication.

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Cats often get chased by dogs because they run in an attempt to get to safety and this triggers an instinctive chasing response in many dogs. 

Aggressive behaviour doesn't necessarily mean that your furry family members can't live together in harmony. As Jackson Galaxy and Zoe Sandor from Animal Planet ‘s Cat vs. Dog explain in an interview, it is possible for your pets to coexist in the same home. By keeping each pet's best interests and instincts in mind, the professionals explain that you can help your furry family members by supervising their interactions and ensuring each animal has their own space to which they can retreat, such as a crate or a gated-off room. Also, make sure that they are never competing over anything such as food or resting places. If your dog and cat have a natural tendency to getting into one another's food, make sure to separate them at feeding time. This not only reduces any combative behaviour, but it also ensures that one pet doesn't consume more calories than they should.


If your cat is the boss of the house, they'll let you and the dog know it. Having evolved from solitary predators who needed to defend large territories and the resources therein, some cats may exhibit aggression if they feel threatened. This is true whether it's a dog and cat living together, two cats, or even a cat and her humans. Your cat may demonstrate their aggression with body language, such as an arched back, fluffed-up tail, and behaviour such as biting or scratching. They also may growl, hiss, or bare their teeth to keep other animals at bay.


Sometimes, a dog and a cat live together but don't bother giving each other the time of day. While ignoring each other is a more desirable situation than constantly quarreling, your pets can live a fuller, more enjoyable life by interacting with one another. Both dogs and cats have an amazing sense of smell and may be inclined to sniff each other, however while dogs typically try to sniff each other’s bottoms, cat’s prefer a nose to nose sniff first. You can facilitate good sniffing sessions by teaching your dog to lie calmly on command and then reward them when they remain this way while your cat sniffs their muzzle. Equally, you can distract and reward a cat with a small food treat while your dog sniffs their bottoms (and possibly the rest of their scent laden coats).

Best Buddies

Although it may seem elusive, cats and dogs can live together — not just as roommates but as tried and true BFFs. One of the best ways of achieving this relationship is to invest time and patience in the introduction period between the two pets, including socialization. Who knows, one day, your cat and dog may end up snuggling together.

When introducing your dog to a cat,"it is important to take things slowly. Cat’s Protection emphasises that “It's much easier to manage a controlled introduction than it is to repair a damaged relationship.” They advise starting with scent swopping before any face to face introductions and when you do get to physical introductions, ensure that your cat has an easy escape route they can use if they are not feeling comfortable.

Myth vs. Reality

So, do cats and dogs get along? Yes, they can. There are plenty of dog myths and cat myths out there, and the notion that these two can't peacefully coexist is truly one of them (no matter what the popular phrase says).

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine Brovelli-O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in English and is an accomplished storyteller and lifelong pet lover. A professional member of the Cat Writers' Association, her work has received Muse Medallions and Certificates of Excellence. When she’s not exploring pet health and behavior, she’s busy mothering one child and four pets.

Reviewed by Dr. Aileen Pypers, BSc, BVSc, PGDip