Why do cats bully dogs when living in the same home?

Unquestionably, it is cats who normally rule the roost and boss dogs even if dogs are much bigger than them when they live in the same home. It looks incongruous because if the dog wanted to, they could dominate and harm the cat, but they back off when the cat is aggressive towards them. So, what is going on?

Well of course it doesn’t happen in every home. That point has to be made. There are many examples of cats being best friends with dogs and in these homes, it is probable that they were raised together when they were very young. In other words, they are well socialised to each other.

Cat dominants dog in most homes when there is hostility between them

Cat dominants dog in most homes when there is hostility between them. Image: MikeB.

If they are not socialised and either the cat or dog has been introduced to the home with a resident pet in place, problems can arise. There are probably three factors at play.

Firstly, the dog has been domesticated for up to 40,000 years whereas the cat has been domesticated up to about 10,000 years. Therefore, the cat is less well domesticated than the dog. This means that their wild cat nature comes out whereas for the dog their wild nature is suppressed.

The dog sees the home and the humans as their pack and the human as the pack leader. They probably see a resident cat as a pack member close to the leader and therefore are non-hostile towards the cat.

The cat, in contrast, sees the dog as an invader on their territory particularly if the cat was the resident cat and the dog was brought into the home later on. This might cause friction for a cat because the human home is their home range, and the dog is invading their home range and therefore they have to defend it. Because they are barely domesticated their natural wild cat instincts come out and they produce their claws and hiss.

It is probably fair to state that, in the video on this page (see base of page), as is the case with other videos of this nature, the cat is being defensively aggressive. He or she is not being aggressive in an unprovoked way I would argue. They are defending it.

And of course, the domestic cat is essentially a solitary animal despite developing a great deal of sociable attributes during 10,000 years of domestication. And therefore, they can get along with other cats in multi-cat homes and dogs for that matter. But if they allow their wild instincts to come out, they might be hostile.

And finally, there is the inevitable and ever-present factor namely that domestic cats have preferences about other animals. Sometimes they like other cats and dogs and sometimes they don’t. They make friends with other companion animals, or they might remain hostile. It is difficult to see any reason why this occurs other than it is just about chemistry.

And therefore, if they get along with the family dog, they won’t be hostile to them but if they are ambivalent or don’t like the dog and they might be hostile at least potentially.

Those are my views and there is a study on the topic which I can’t find but which found that 56.5% of owners of cats and dogs (in the same home) said that their cat had threatened the dog compared with only 18% who said that the dog had threatened their cat. This supports the premise I have made above that it is cats who are the instigators of this hostility.

In the UK, 7% of pet owners are caregivers of both cats and dogs. Dr. Sophie Hall the co-author of the research paper said: “On the face of it, these results suggest that the cat is the kingpin in a household with dogs. They are the princess, and the dog is lower down in the hierarchy”.

She is saying that there is a hierarchical issue as well. I think this applies to dogs. Cats don’t have hierarchies, but dogs do, and it seems that the dogs in households where there are cats perceive the cat as on a higher level in the hierarchy. They don’t explain why this might be. Perhaps it is because the cats are loved by their owners and the owners are at the top of the hierarchy. So, the cats are next to the number one animal and the dog may pick this up and be submissive towards the cat because they are friends with the top “dog”.

The research also found that cats often injure dogs with almost one in 10 owners reporting this. In contrast, only 1% of cat and dog owners said that their dog had injured their cat.

In homes where there is friction between dogs and cats it is clear that you have to allow the cat their home range (their space), which will be extremely difficult because there isn’t enough space to allocate solely for a cat’s use. Domestic cats have home ranges of around 10 acres or so and therefore if they are full-time indoor cats, they are already in a place which is very compact in terms of the space that they naturally require.

Therefore, to say that the problem can be resolved by allowing cats more space in impractical. The root solution is to ensure cats and dogs are raised together.

Here is a video of a cat defending their home range as I see it.

Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source, or the video is turned into a link which would stop it working here. I have no control over this.


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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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