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Forget the Stereotypes. When Cats and Dogs Tangle Cats Usually Win.

Certain cartoons bothered me when I was a cat loving youngster. Why was Tom made into a villain for hunting Jerry? Mice are natural prey...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jul 8th 2010


Certain cartoons bothered me when I was a cat loving youngster. Why was Tom made into a villain for hunting Jerry? Mice are natural prey for cats. How can it be wrong for a cat to do what is in his nature?

I had similar concerns about Sylvester and Tweety. Hanging a small bird in front of a cat is like taunting a child with candy. Why was Sylvester a bad individual for wanting to eat the bird? And why was the big English Bulldog not a bad individual for beating up Sylvester again and again?

I realize now that the cartoons weren’t simply promoting stereotypes. They were promoting totally false stereotypes. In real life games of cat and mouse the cat almost always wins. More surprisingly, when a cat and a dog get into a scrape the cat generally comes out on top.

As a veterinarian I get a unique perspective on cats and dogs. First, the idea that cats and dogs generally don’t get along is simply wrong. Many of my clients have both species as pets. In most cases the animals are firm and fast friends.

There are some exceptions. Rare dogs turn into homicidal maniacs at the sight of a cat. These dogs can seriously injure feline companions, but they are few and far between.

Most dogs express interest in and are curious about cats. If they get too close to a grouchy feline with untrimmed claws they are taught a painful lesson.

A case seen by a coworker the other day at the emergency hospital is a good example. A young dog was presented with a laceration on his third eyelid. The other doctor was in the process of treating the injury when I walked by. I took one look at the hapless pup and asked whether the dog had gotten too close to a cat.

Of course he had. The story was typical. The owners had adopted the dog that very day. They set him loose in the house and he playfully bounded up to the family’s cat. The cat was not interested in the dog’s exuberant attention. She took a swipe at the dog’s face. Fortunately, the dog managed to get his third eyelid over his eye before the claw struck–otherwise the laceration would have been on the cornea (the eye itself, which is a much worse spot).

The dog will not suffer any long-term harm from this incident. I hope that everyone reading can learn from his owners’ mistake. When cats and dogs meet for the first time sparks can fly and dogs can end up at the vet.

Photo: a more typical cat and dog interaction.