Cat and Dog Playing or Fighting: How Can You Tell?

Cover Image - Cat and Dog Playing or Fighting

If you own a dog and you’re owned by a cat, you might be tempted to think of your role as middle management. Even if your feline and canine furbabies have grown up together in the same household, body language differences between the two can sometimes get lost in translation. Your role is more of an interpreter.

The key to dogs playing with cats is to understand the warning signs and when it’s time to intervene. After all, it’s up to us to keep the peace and to keep our furry friends happy! If you’re like us and dream of cats and dogs getting along, keep on reading for our best tips. 

Cat and dog playing or fighting

Cats and Dogs Getting Along - Well, that escalated quickly!

When what you thought was a game of play fighting ends in a yelping dog with a scratched nose and a hissing kitty, this can turn bad pretty quickly! It’s helpful to read the body language signals early on so that you can intervene before your pets enter the danger zone.

Here’s a handy body language reference list to determine if cat and dog are playing or fighting:

Inviting to Play

We all know the classic playful sign from our doggos. You now, that courteous bow? Or is your pal more of a pawing to the ground kind of fur buddy? Either way, this is a clear indication that your dog is in a playful mood. Many cats, on the other hand, roll over onto their backs to start a game. It’s a pretend submission that indicates the intention to play.

Warning: If this first step is skipped and your dog immediately starts a loud, barking chase, it’s time to start paying attention! Another warning sign is when your kitty responds to the invitation with a wagging, twitching tail. With these actions, there is no mutual agreement, and it probably won’t end well. This is your prompt to step in before it becomes a fight.

Dogs playing with cats

Taking Turns

Once the invitation to play is accepted, your buddies will usually take turns at play fighting. Your kitty might swipe, but always with claws retracted, and your doggo will mouth the cat without using teeth. The pretend fighting might draw some excited noises from your dog, but your cat usually remains silent. They may even take turns at chasing, but both stay in the game. This is an excellent indicator that your dream of cats and dogs getting along is coming true!

Warning: If your dog's growl starts to lower in pitch and continue, or if your cat hisses, this is a visible sign one or both of them feel uncomfortable or threatened. If teeth or claws come out, it’s best to separate them immediately to stop your dream from becoming a nightmare.

More subtle signs that your cat is preparing for a real fight or flight include ears that turn backward or lie flat, fur standing up, back arched, and a thrashing tail.

Supervising Play Time and Creating Safe Spaces 

Still wondering about your cat and dog playing or fighting signs and signals? Our best tip: always be in the room with your dog and cat for playfights. The more time you spend with them while they’re in this playful mood, the better you will get at recognizing the symptoms. 

To keep the space safe, we’d advise trying to limit playtime to 5 minutes at a time. This way, your pets won’t get frustrated with each other or become over-excited. You can also try keeping the door slightly open at all times so that your kitty can escape if it gets overwhelming. Fitting a Door Buddy gives your cat an easy exit without being chased by the dog! 

cats and dogs getting along

Dogs playing with cats doesn’t have to be a scary scene! In fact, our furry pals can be best buds when they’ve got the right supervision and safe spaces. Understanding the cat and dog playing or fighting signs is a great way for us furparents to stay in charge and keep the love in our homes!


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