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Can My Cat Understand Dogs or My Other Cat? Animal Communication Explained

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat and dog together on sofa

Can My Cat Understand Dogs or My Other Cat? Animal Communication Explained

If you’ve spent any time online watching cute animal videos, you’ve probably come across at least one highlighting the relationship between an unlikely pair of friends, like a dog and a cat. If so, it may have led you to wonder whether cats can understand dogs or even other cats, for that matter.

Even though your cat might not understand every nuance of what a dog is trying to communicate, they most certainly get the basic messages. Regarding inter-cat communication, rest assured that your cat understands your other cat perfectly well!

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How Do Dogs and Cats Communicate?

Cats and dogs use body language and vocalization to communicate, but that doesn’t mean that the two can easily understand each other for various reasons, including the most obvious: Cats meow and dogs bark. To make things even more confusing, the same body language often means different things for canines and felines.

Take a simple tail wag. Dogs wag their tails to indicate they’re content and happy. Cats wag or rather, thwack their tails to make sure you know they’re not amused. Dogs leave their mouths open and show their teeth when they’re being friendly, while cats only do so when on the verge of fighting.

Yet, ultimately, cats and dogs probably understand each other as well as your cat understands you. Your cat can easily pick up on whether or not a dog intends to hurt them without understanding all the nuances of canine communication.

Cats that live with dogs for extended periods tend to understand their canine housemate’s signals better, just like your cat understands what you’re saying pretty well due to the familiarity of living with another living creature.

How Do You Know If a Cat Will Accept a Dog?

Cat affectionately licks the dog
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

While there’s no way to tell ahead of time if a cat will accept a dog, a few factors can make it more likely that the two will get along. Cats and dogs introduced to each other when young tend to have an easier time living together.

So, if you’re dying to have a dog and a cat, consider adopting two younger animals around the same time to allow them to grow up together. Older cats and dogs are often set in their ways and unwilling to tolerate the antics of a rambunctious kitten or puppy.

Like humans, cats or dogs that aren’t feeling well or are in pain often have less patience, making them more likely not to be interested in dealing with a newcomer of any age. Stress is another big interspecies friendship killer.

Both cats and dogs are more likely to react aggressively when under stress. New babies, moving, and nearby construction are major feline and canine stressors that significantly increase the chance the two pets will get off to a rocky start.

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Is There Anything I Can Do to Make It More Likely My Cat Will Accept a Dog?

Absolutely. If you’re bringing home a dog and you already have an adult cat at home, there are several things you can do to increase the likelihood that the pair will eventually get along. Ensure your cat always has a dog-free safe place to hide and destress, even after the two have gotten used to each other.

Make sure to have a few high perches in most rooms so your cat always has a high vantage point from where they can keep an eye on the dog. Don’t put the two together right away! Keep them separated for at least 3 or 4 days to allow sufficient time for them to become used to each other’s presence.

Consider feeding them simultaneously on opposite sides of a closed door, so they both start associating the smell of the other with something pleasant. Once the two have had a few days to accept the other’s presence in the house, let them meet face to face. Make sure to keep it short and provide treats and encouragement.

Gradually increase the time the two spend together, and watch for signs of aggression in either animal. You should intervene immediately if things seem to be heading in the wrong direction. Hissing and tail thwacking are signs that your cat has had enough, and barking and growling usually indicate that a dog is getting ready to attack.

Why Do Dogs and Cats Fight If They Can Understand Each Other?

Dog Barking at Cat
Image Credit: AyazHan, Shutterstock

Dogs and cats aren’t destined to end up hating each other. However, difficulties often arise when two adult animals are introduced to each other without any precautions, primarily because of a few inherent differences between how dogs and cats engage with new experiences.

Dogs tend to be more trusting when introduced to new animals, but cats often feel nervous around unfamiliar people and animals. Canines often engage with unknown creatures playfully, whereas felines often are hesitant to engage in play with strangers.

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How Do Cats Communicate With Each Other?

Cats communicate with each other in several ways, including body language, vocalizations, pheromones, and touch. Your cat uses their eyes, tails, and ears to “speak” to other kitties.

Cats that feel comfortable around people or another cat will often lie on their backs, exposing their vulnerable bellies. Cats that are unsure of another’s intentions sometimes crouch down and tuck their tails between their legs. Interestingly, while cats do meow to communicate, it’s primarily used as a tool to “speak” to humans. Cats trill, purr, growl, and hiss to let other cats know how they feel or what they want.

Cats also use physical contact to communicate with other cats. Cats that like each other will greet one another with a mutual nose touch, and cat friends will often show each other love by rubbing their heads together.

Of course, when cats rub against each other (or their favorite human), they leave powerful chemical markers behind that contain essential information about their health and availability for mating. Cats can create a group scent that reinforces their bond and provides a way to identify outsiders quickly.

Do Cats Prefer Dogs or Other Cats?

dog and cat cuddling

It depends on the cat! Some cats are content living with a dog they’ve grown up with, and others will chase all canine intruders out of the house and down the street.

It mostly comes down to what the cat is accustomed to and its personality. Cats that grow up with another cat in the house tend to enjoy having a feline buddy. In contrast, those who grow up in a single-cat household become accustomed to being alone and often won’t tolerate the introduction of any animal intruder.

While kittens are usually happy to play nicely with other cats, solo adult cats are often territorial and utterly unwilling to share their space or their human.


Final Thoughts

By relying on body language, cats can understand most other creatures pretty well, including dogs and humans. Cats that live with a dog for a long time become better at picking up on that dog’s clues and eventually can discern their canine buddy’s meaning with reasonable accuracy.

When it comes to communicating with other cats, cats do exceptionally well, as they have several ways to get their point across, including body language, vocalization, and pheromones.

Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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