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Can Dogs and Cats Communicate with Each Other?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Black cat and red spaniel lying next to each other

When they’re not busy giving each other side-eye, what are your cats and dogs thinking? Do they have a deep-seated love for one another? It’s time for an entertaining look at the communications between our cats and dogs. If you want your pets to get along like Garfield and Odie, we’ve got some tips for that too!

How Do Dogs Communicate?

They can’t talk, so your dog’s primary source of information about any new creature is scent. That’s why dogs go straight for the rear end… or the crotch. By sniffing pheromones or urine, dogs can detect the biological gender and mating ‘suitability’ of another dog – they can even tell if they’re healthy. (Dogs pick up diseases including cancer, with the purpose of protecting pack members who are at less-than-peak performance – or choosing a healthy mate!)

Of course, dogs do have their own language (and studies have shown that you probably understand it better than you think! Barking varies in pitch, speed and intensity to communicate messages and emotions. (Have you noticed that your dog barks a certain way when they want to come in from the yard, and a different way when the mailman knocks the door?) 

Like many animals, dogs also use body language. They’ll examine posture and expression to learn how another animal feels:

  • Flattened against the ground = submissive and unthreatening.
  • Fur prickled up along the back = alert and on-guard.
  • Lip raised to show teeth = aggressive and warning.
  • Front paws flat, bottom raised = playful and persuasive.

How Do Cats Communicate?

You might think they communicate verbally. But did you know that cats actually developed their meowing sounds to communicate with humans? If you have a cat, you’ll know the sound they make in greeting (a “trill”) and the mournful meow they make when they’re very hungry. (They have an uncanny ability to ‘throw’ their voice in a melodramatic manner around the whole house.)

But that’s their special ‘human’ voice. When they’re alone, cats don’t meow much: they’re more likely to communicate using body language. If you’re an owner, you’ll be familiar with this too. Here are some of the main signals:

  • Graceful walk, tail held up and ears perky = comfortable, friendly attitude.
  • Flattened ears = guarded or wary.
  • Crouching or walking low and slow = feeling threatened.
  • Rolling on back to expose belly = relaxed and affectionate.
  • Creeping with body lowered towards the ground = stalking prey.
  • Rubbing head onto furniture, another pet, or your hand = sociable and comfortable.

Can Cats and Dogs Communicate with Each Other?

Now, you’ll notice some cross-over between the body language of both animals. That’s because many mammals employ similar tactics to express warnings or caution. If they don’t want to fight, they typically make themselves look small and unthreatening, or expose their vulnerable stomach; when they’re poised to attack, they adopt a menacing pose. Loud sounds (like a hiss or bark) also warn off the other animal. 

In other words, both species recognise many of the signals displayed by the other – so your cat and dog can communicate their intentions to one another. They’re able to tell when the other is relaxed and unthreatening – or boisterous and risky. This helps them to react accordingly. 

It also means that, given time, your pets can get used to each other – and even develop a fond relationship.

Introducing a New Cat or Dog…

If you’re a cat and a dog person, you’ll want to give both pets the best chance of a happy relationship – and that starts with the first meeting/learn/dog-training/how-to-introduce-a-cat-and-a-dog.

  • Introducing a new puppy or dog to your cat? Cats are territorial, and you’re bringing the new dog onto their turf. It is helpful to minimize disruption to your cat’s regular routine. Make sure that your cat has her own zone where she can relax in peace away from the puppy. For the first meeting, let your cat determine the proximity: keep pup on a leash or behind a baby-gate, and allow your cat to come closer so they can sniff each other. Reward the dog for looking away from the cat or sitting nicely. Keep the meetings short and aim to repeat them regularly – keeping your dog on a leash for as long as necessary.
  • Introducing a kitten to your dog? Similar rules apply. Allow your cat to explore while keeping the dog calm and restrained. Make sure the cat has an ‘escape route’. Give your dog lots of love and rewards for nice behavior – don’t scold or punish them for curiosity. 
  • Your dog and cat may learn to ignore one another and reach a peaceful status-quo. But they may not: some cats never learn to tolerate dogs. If that’s the case, your pets will probably figure out their own solution by staying apart and adapting their routines. 

When’s the Best Age to Introduce New Pets?

If you’re a dog owner looking for a cat, first think about contacting your local shelter. They are often overwhelmed with cats. But that’s not the only reason to give them a call. Since the shelter staff already know the animals, they’ll be able to recommend you a gentle or accommodating cat who’s more likely to get along with dogs

If your dog is mature, you can consider bringing in a kitten. You have better odds when you introduce a fearless kitten to a gentle, well-socialized dog. 

On the other hand, if you already have an older cat and you want to bring home a puppy, this can be more challenging. Your first priority needs to be to the pet you’ve already committed to looking after.  

Some people advise getting a puppy and a kitten at the same time. It can be difficult raising two young pets at once – especially managing their feeding times, behaviors and territories. But while they’re both young, they’re also adaptable. If you have the time and attention, you could teach both to be supremely tolerant!

Stress Solutions for Dogs and Cats

Look, we can’t pretend this will always run smoothly. No matter how much you want it, your pets aren’t obliged to love one another.

Does your dog hide when they hear loud noises? Or tremble at the sight of a car trunk being opened? They could be prone to anxiety. 

And if that’s the case, it’s extra important to help them to stay calm and not force interactions with other pets. Why? Because repeated exposure to their triggers can cause generalized anxiety, affecting their daily behaviors.

As well as limiting contact between animals, you could consider some stress remedies such as:

  • Hormone diffusers. They’re available for both dogs and cats.
  • Essential oil or flower remedies – available in formulas developed for pets.
  • Quiet, ‘safe’ places for both pets.
  • Affection. It’s now scientifically proven that stroking your pet increases their levels of ‘happy’ hormones (as well as yours, obviously). 

Do your pets have a blissfully happy relationship? We love a good dog story. Tag us in your pictures on Instagram and we’ll share the best ones!