Dear Dr. Universe: Why do dogs and cats fight? – Karri, 10, Essex

Dear Karri,

Because cats and dogs are different species, they aren’t usually friends in nature. Dogs in the wild see cats as prey, and cats see dogs as a threat.

They don’t choose this; it’s just hardwired into their brains. And when they live together in a house, they compete with each other for food, territory and human attention.

This makes them even more likely to fight, but it doesn’t mean they can’t learn to get along.

To learn more about this, I talked to Leticia Fanucchi, a veterinarian at Washington State University who knows a lot about animal behavior.

She said you can never be sure that your pets will like each other, but you can improve the chances. As long as dogs and cats meet each other when they’re very young, they can learn to interact peacefully.

“If you get a puppy and a kitten at the same time,” Leticia said, “they’ll grow up to be best friends.”

If they don’t meet until they’re older, or if you bring a new animal into the house, they will be more likely to fight. The same thing even happens with animals of the same species. Leticia said that when she got a new kitten, it took six months for her other cats to accept it.

But she said there are some tricks you can use to help the animals socialize and avoid aggression.

The first thing Leticia recommended is to introduce the animals outside of the house. The dog or cat who already lives in the house won’t like the new animal intruding in its territory, so they need to meet each other somewhere else first.

After this you can put them together, but they still need certain things to be happy. For example, cats want to be able to perch on high places and they need escape routes. They like personal space more than dogs do, so it’s important for the cat to have a place where the dog can’t bother it.

Even after all this, it might take a while for dogs and cats to become comfortable with each other. They need time to get to know each other.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Leticia said, “because we don’t learn to love a stranger overnight.”

There is no way to guarantee cats and dogs will get along, because it depends on so many things. But with these tips, you can put them in the best position to become buddies.

Sincerely,

Cody Cottier (and Dr. Universe)

Cody Cottier contributed this article. He is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.