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Can Cats And Dogs Understand Each Other

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs and cats can form bonds and friendships, but understanding their interactions can be difficult due to their different behaviors.
  • Research shows that dogs and cats raised together are more likely to have similar behaviors and enjoy playing together.
  • Communication between dogs and cats can be challenging due to their different behaviors, but over time, they can learn to interpret each other's positive and negative behaviors.
  • Signs that dogs and cats are communicating include vocalizations, eye contact, whisker and mouth tension, grooming each other, and resting near each other.
  • Dogs can recognize that cats are different, and if they were raised with cats, they may relate to them more and see them as a source of comfort. Cats meow at humans to get attention and may meow at dogs in specific situations.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Licensed veterinarian and animal behaviorist with over three years of experience and a Ph.D. in Poultry Science.
Published on
Thursday 2 June 2022
Last updated on
Saturday 25 November 2023
cats and dogs understanding each other
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Dogs and cats have been an argument for years, which is better? However, what about the owners who love both, and those who own both! Many owners have a dog and a cat that appear to be best friends and get on well. Other owners will swear that their dog hates cats and even that their dog argues with cats.

Personification is a possible explanation, however, communication between the two species is another. So do cats and dogs understand each other?

If we are trying to explore whether dogs communicate with cats or not, we need to look at scientific studies and try to remove as much bias as possible.

Can Cats And Dogs Be Friends

Dogs and cats are able to form bonds and even gain friendships. However, due to their completely different behavioral reactions and behaviors, it can be difficult to always understand what interactions are positive or negative between them. What we may consider being negative, such as a cat sitting near a dog but ignoring them, can be positive. Furthermore, what may appear to be your cat cuddling with your dog, may actually be negative. Such as if your dog is panting and whale eyeing upon their presence.

Research has shown that particularly dogs and cats that have been raised together, will share similar behaviors, seek each other out, and even enjoy playing together. For those not raised together, it may take time for them to reach a point of even tolerance. However, this does not mean a friendship or levels of affection may not arise with time. Patience, individual differences, and experience can help to decide whether a cat and dog can interact positively, but it is a complex topic.

Science Behind Dogs and Cats Communicating

What is crucial with any communication is understanding what that behavior means to the species and individual. For example, when we smile it usually means happiness, when a dog smiles it indicates stress and sometimes fear and aggression. This is the same for dogs and cats, their behaviors differ so sometimes communication can be difficult.

In the same way, we do not entirely understand our dogs, cats and dogs do not entirely understand one another. What is possible though is general interpretation. Over time, they can learn what behaviors are positive and what are negative. This takes time to understand and a safe environment for both individuals to want to pursue it. The louder the noise is usually pretty self-explanatory and one may assume it is aggressive. However, it can be quite confusing for cats to see a large dog running around, barking, and throwing their body at them to mean anything but aggression. When in fact, this is usually playing.

Essentially, the calmer the individuals, the easier and quicker it is for them to begin to interpret each other’s behaviors. In a place where they feel safe, they are more likely to explore and interact with one another. Fear brings about aggression and the need to flee a situation, preventing any bonding or learning. Hence why forcing your pets into a room together will likely cause your animals upset and not help them bond.

cats and dogs communication
Cats and dogs can learn to understand each other, despite the fact they each mean different things when they wag their tail.

Signs that Cats and Dogs are Communicating

There are a few ways you can notice if your dog and cat are communicating. Here are some of the signs they may be doing so


Signs of pain and aggression are relatively similar between these species. So growling can occur in cats and dogs to be used as a warning in space, interaction, or even possessiveness. The same goes for types of whining or howling. Although they sound a little different in each species, behaviorists believe they may be able to recognize these as signs of pain or distress.

However, meowing and barking individual to one another and therefore these vocalizations may be misinterpreted. Happy barking could be seen as aggression due to a cat and angry meowing may be seen as an invitation to interact with a dog.


Both species communicate with their eyes and in a similar way. When cats are dogs are upset, distressed, or showing aggression they will not blink and will often show the whites of their eyes. Therefore, they may be able to understand if the other species are feeling negative and understand when to give space from eye communication.

Furthermore, they both also blink slowly to show trust and friendliness and appear not as a threat. Slower blinking or a lack of eye contact can often be a sign that these animals are comfortable around each other and, possibly, that they are comfortable interacting further such as sniffing one another.

Whiskers and Mouth

Tensions, stress, and aggression can be seen in the whiskers and mouths of cats and dogs. When both species are upset, tension can be seen on their face. Their whiskers are pushed forward due to their mouth becoming tense. It is more noticeable in the mouth of dogs. Some owners have commented that their dog looks like they are smiling when they are stressed and or unhappy.

With cats, it is slightly more noticeable in the whiskers. They will point much more to the front of their face and will be very tense and still. However, you can see the muscles tense of both animals in these areas during times of unhappiness.


If your dogs and cats are grooming each other then this is a sign they have formed a close bond and are very comfortable with one another. Allogrooming is the term for two individuals grooming or preening one another as a show of care or affection. Although this terminology is usually used for same-species grooming, it can be used for inter-species grooming.

The act itself shows vulnerability on both sides. One individual is allowing the other to get very close and risk themselves being bitten but instead trusts the other to groom their coat and body for cleaning. The other is going out of their way to groom the first and help them as a show of affection.


There is a huge misconception that trust and comfort in animals have meaningful interaction. However, sometimes some of the biggest signs of trust are an animal resting and being completely vulnerable by another. If your cats and dogs are sleeping near each other or in the same room this can show trust.

Displaying vulnerability can strengthen the bond between two individuals. It shows that they have faith that their counterpart will not attack them and that they feel safe enough to sleep near them. The trust has increased a level if they deliberately attempt to sleep next to or touch each other. This signifies a sense of safety from feeling one another and the ultimate level of trust.

Do Cats and Dogs Understand Each Other: FAQ 

Do dogs think cats are dogs?

Dogs are able to recognize that cats are different, however, this depends on whether they were raised with cats or not. If a dog has grown up around cats, they may actually display more feline behavior than the average cat and thereby relate to them more so. Your dog may feel more comfortable around cats, mimic some of their behavior, and thereby see this species as a source of comfort.

Why do cats meow at dogs?

An interesting fact is that cats will interact with each other verbally, but they will never meow at one another. Cats only meow at humans and sometimes, other species to get attention. They do not typically meow at dogs but they can do so. The meow indicates that your cat wants something. For example, they may meow at your dog if they are lying on your cat’s bed, asking them to move.

Can dogs and cats talk?

They talk in the way that we talk to them, through interpretation and understanding behavior. However, they cannot communicate in the way one dog talks to another. Therefore, sometimes their communication is not perfect and they may misunderstand each other. However, the more time they spend together with patience, the more they will learn about one another and the species’ way of communicating.

Can a cat be a good companion for a dog?

Cats and dogs can form a very strong bond, however, this is not guaranteed. Every dog and cat are different, some may be more likely to want to form social bonds with one another, some may be more interested in being alone, and some may even feel aggression. You will require a lot of patience, to examine your dog’s breed and traits, and to consider the cat you are bringing into the house as well. It is not necessarily an easy transition, but it can be a wonderful pairing if done well.

Is it normal for a cat to hiss at a new dog?

It is quite a common behavior when a cat is meeting a new dog. Dogs are strong creatures that usually have the physical capabilities to cause cat harm, therefore they are often more fearful and defensive than dogs may be on a first meeting. A hiss may be a warning to appear strong and to tell the new member to not try any negative behavior. It can also be a sign of territorial defense. This is their house and the dog is a newcomer, it’s an immediate sign to the dog that this is not their home as of yet.

So do cats and dogs understand each other? In a lot of ways they do! Patience and space are the keys for a relationship to form but it is possible. However, this does not mean that every cat and every dog can be friends. Natural traits and life experiences may make that simply not possible for some individuals. 

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