This was an “Ask Me Anything” question, but I felt it was better dealt with in my advice column — and you will see why. Oskar from Pet Blogs United asked, “Why do the kitties that I live with still swat me on the nose for no reason sometimes? I’ve been here for 7 years and I never chase them. Shouldn’t they be nice to me by now?”
Well, Oskar, I hate to tell you, but some kitties never become best buds with the dogs they live with! I can tell you that for a fact because I am that kind of a kitty myself. When I came to live here over 10 years ago, the dog was already here, and I did not like her from the start. I was somewhere between two and three pounds, and this humungous, jumpy, loud thing was 20 times my size! She was quite frightening, and even though everyone assured me that she was harmless, and she and Binga were (and are) great pals, I never warmed up to her. If she is around and she is bothering me (and all she has to do is stand next to me to bother me sometimes), I will give her my patented machine-gun whaps on her nose! So she steers clear of me most of the time.
Part of the reason I do not like dogs is because by the time I saw one for the first time, I was over 4 months old (getting into the not-as-malleable, older kitten stage), plus I was already freaked out by being taken from my dog-free, all-kitty home and thrown into what seemed to be a chaotic life with strangers, human and cat alike. The dog made it even worse. The other reason is I do not speak dog at all, and the dog here does not speak cat very well. You see, cats and dogs speak very different languages and when we don’t understand each other, it causes frustration, annoyance and, sometimes, bad behavior.
I’ll give you a couple of examples about how cat and dog language differ. We kitties smile by blinking our eyes. You dogs smile with your mouth wide open, baring your big fangs and your lolling, salivating tongue! I think that is kind of scary. We cats greet friends with our tails high in the air and when we are angry, we swish our tails back and forth. You dogs greet friends with your tail swishing! That is just crazy to me. And dogs jump around unpredictably, and we kitties hate unexpected movements — it makes us nervous. And the barking — it hurts our ears. So yeah, when a cat like me is faced with a jumping, excitable dog showing his teeth, wagging his tail and making ear-splitting noise, I can’t exactly be expected to be glad to see him!
Of course, it is possible for cats and dogs to be friends, like Binga and the dog here. It helps if the cat and dog have both lived with other cats and dogs previously or if one of them is still in the puppy or kitten stage, so for those who are looking to adopt into a multi-species family, this is a good thing to keep in mind. And no matter what, when a cat and dog are meeting for the first few times, it should be done very carefully for both their sakes. Dogs should either be on leash or in a crate at first, and it might be a good idea to take the dog for a long walk first, or set up a meeting right after he has woken up — that way his energy will be lower, and he might be less inclined to upset the cat with hyperactive behavior. It helps the cat if you give her treats or catnip or something else she likes, so she associates good things with the dog. Dogs are naturally predators, and they chase their prey, so a dog should never be allowed to chase a cat, even in fun (the fact that Oskar does not chase the cats in his house shows he knows that already). It is also a good idea to make sure the cat has high surfaces he can climb or jump up to — “safe” spaces — where the dog can’t reach her. The Upper Midwest Great Dane Rescue has a great PDF file on how to manage a cat-dog relationship, even one that is less than optimal.
Oskar, if the cats in your family are still whapping you after seven years, I have to say, you must be doing something to annoy them! Kitties generally have a reason for doing that, even if you can’t figure out what it is. Maybe they whap you because they want you to know you can’t mess with them. Maybe they just don’t like your dog energy, or your version of fun isn’t the same as theirs. Or… you know, they could just be bullies. If your human understands Cat better than you do, then maybe she can observe you all and figure out what is being lost in the translation.