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5 Tips for Dog People Who Have to Be Around Cats

Five tips to help dog lovers interact with and understand cats. This includes how to greet cats, what sounds you want and don’t want to hear, and how to interpret body language.

cat lays on dog
Mac chills on James, and dares him to touch his belly … haha. Photo from Christina Pierce.

You’re used to an animal being a certain way. Overflowing with love for you. Trying to please you. Seeking to protect you. This other four-legged creature is throwing you for a loop. If you’re a dog person who is forced to be around cats, this post is for you. I’ll tell you why cats do certain things, so you can understand them at a little better and more easily interact with them.

The most important thing to remember: Cats are not dogs. They have different social structures. Their bodies work differently, and they communicate differently. Keep that in mind.

1. First, Shake Hands. Scent Is Everything.

Cats are inquisitive and cautious – like people. When you meet a cat, extend your hand so they can smell it. That’s the equivalent of a handshake. Scent defines their world.

FUN FACT: It’s very possible cats can distinguish scents better than humans and dogs. V1R is a scent receptor protein mammals have in their noses, and scientists believe it helps distinguish different scents. Humans have two forms of V1R. Dogs have nine. Cats have 30.

FUN FACT: The average cat can smell better than the average dog. Most dog breeds have 150 million scent receptors in their noses. The average cat has 200 million, meaning the average cat can smell better than the average dog. Exceptions are dogs specifically bred to have more: Beagle, Basset Hound, Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd come in above the cat at 220 million, but the Bloodhound is the best, with 300 million.

SOURCE: CANIDAE

2. Turn Down the Volume.

Nothing annoys a cat more than a loud, disruptive noise. Yelling, running, and stomping are all noises they don’t like, most likely because of their highly sensitive hearing. Calm voices and sounds are their preference.

Tabby cat sitting with dog.
Poseidon (RIP) chillin with his bud Ranger. Photo courtesy of Andy Spiers.

FUN FACT: Cat’s have superior hearing to human and dogs, and are even more sensitive to sounds. With 32 muscles in each ear, cats can rotate their ears 180 degrees and hear up to 100,000 Hz. Human hearing maxes out at 23,000 Hz. Dogs can hear up to 45,000 Hz, and the 18 muscles in their ears allow them to move their ears independently, helping them determine the origin of a sound.

SOURCES: Wag! & CANIDAE

3. Petting Rules: Slow, Soft & Steady

Cats can be finicky about their bodies. Follow these rules so you can safely interact with a cat.

Easy-to-understand petting instructions from AnimalWised.
  • Location, location, location. The top of the head is often the safest place. If the cat is leaning in, you may be able to pet her back, and scratch at the base, near the tail. Steer clear of the legs and actual tail itself, and do not go for the belly. Although dogs like belly rubs, many cats are protective of their stomachs because of their main organs being located there.
  • Do not pet head to tail over and over again in succession. It causes over stimulation and the cat will eventually swat or bite.
  • Stick with slow, soft rubs – fast motions will likely overstimulate them.
  • If you feel comfortable, gentle scratches are often welcome, especially around the ears, cheeks and on the noses.

SOURCE: Vetted PetCare

4. How to Read Kitty Body Language

Cat Tail Speak
The position and movement of the tail matters. Image courtesy of Stray Cat Project and CommunityCatsTNR.org.

What You Don’t Want to See

  • Ears back.
  • Tail flicking or thumping.
  • Large pupils. Means a cat is surprised or scared. If you are playing with the cat and using a toy, it should be okay. If you’re using your hands in anyway, stop and let the cat relax a little.
  • Stare down. The cat is throwing down a glove and challenging you.
  • Fur puffed, like a Halloween cat. Cats do this to appear bigger than they actually are, hoping to intimidate others.

What You Want to See

  • Curled tail, like a question mark. This is usually a sign a cat is happy with you, and he may even walk by your legs and wrap the tip of their tail around a leg, in essence giving you a hug.
  • Rubbing against you. Cats rub against things they like, claiming them as their own.
  • The slow blink. The cat is content and if they are slow blinking while looking at you, it’s sort of like they’re blowing you a kiss.

The above is a super-easy breakdown. For more details on tail/ear position, and eye dilation, I highly recommend this short article from Petfinder.

5. Understanding WTH the Noise Is That Just Came Out of the Cat

What You Don’t Want to Hear

  • Hissing.
  • Growling.
  • Yowling.
  • Spitting.

What You Want to Hear

  • Purring. Scientists still can’t explain with 100% certainty why cats purr, but they do it more when they’re happy. It’s also believed the frequency of a purr helps stimulate healing in the body.
  • Chirping.
  • Meowing.
  • Chattering. This is often done when cats watch birds outside, and is believed to be a sign of frustration and not being able to get to prey.

Again, this is a very simplified breakdown. To learn more about different noises and what they mean, check out this article from MNN.com, which also includes videos.

FUN FACT: Cats can make up to 100 different noises. As a species, dogs have hundreds of ranges of noises, but an individual dog can only make a handful of sounds, estimated around 10.

FUN FACT: Adult cats don’t meow at each other, only at humans. A mother and her kittens will meow and mew at each other, but in every other instance, a cat meows at humans to communicate with us. They quickly realize we respond to it.

SOURCES: Wide Open Pets & The Nest

Coexisting Is Okay

Bottom line: You don’t have to like cats to be around them. Understanding how their bodies work is a big part of the battle so you can coexist without upsetting them or injuring yourself. I hope this post was interesting and you learned a little something. They are highly sensitive creatures, and as long as you at least respect them for that, your interactions should be smoother.

How It All Started

Little Liz with her helmet hair and a calico kitten.

I’ve been studying cat behavior in the field since I was a little girl. Here’s how it all started.

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By LizsKittyBootCamp

I foster cats and kittens, specializing in behavioral cases.

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