When we think “instinct” we think the natural form to explain an animal’s behavior as observed over a said number of years. We often say things like “It is a cat’s instinct to hunt mice” or “It is a cat’s instinct to fear water”. So can we justify years of co-habitation showing that cats hate dogs? No.
You hear it in jokes, see it in cartoons, and laugh about it online; But is it true? For many years people assumed dogs and cats can't live under the same home and we now know (and have known) that this simply isn't true. People can co-exist and accept hatred of one another. It happens in school, in the work place, and even in families. What about cats though? Are cats instinctively geared toward the hatred of dogs?
Dogs have been domesticated for around 18,800 years. They are directly related in the same family tree branch as the gray wolves. Gray wolves in the wild are pack animals and work together, often avoiding confrontation from other animals unless they have the intention to eat said animals. They have always been found in cooler climates and are known for their survival rates in brutally cold weather. They require daily intake of food to remain healthy and mate successfully. They typically stick to the same areas and move as a group over years of mating and group leader changes.
Cats on the other hand, have never become domesticated and it is a common misconception to believe they have been. You can say they are partially-domestic at best. They began working alongside humans around Ancient Egyptian times to help keep mice, lizards, and insects out of food sources. They were then rewarded for doing this. Why would a cat say no to free hand outs? In the wild, cats are not typically pack animals. There are few exceptions in the larger cat world but for the most part, they run solo. Nearly 96% of your cat’s DNA matches up with a tiger’s which is pretty amazing, right? Tigers are known for working alone which is why their endangered rating is so high. The feral cat, which is considered the completely wild form of the “house cat”, will remain alone unless mating. They work as both hunters and scavengers often eating anything they can find in desperate times, including human garbage and waste.
They both have different ways of adaptability and have different uses of communication. A cat wagging its tail in the wild is a sign of aggression, where a dog wagging its tail is a sign of joy or happiness. They also have different ways of vocalizing disapproval. A cat will try to appear as big and as loud as it can where a dog will minimize its size to have focus on its teeth and rely on numbers (of the pack). The reason people still believe that cats hate dogs is because of miscommunication and opposite natural instincts.
When you observe a cat who is being approached by a dog wagging its tail, it will become scared and aggressive because the tail is telling the cat “I am a threat”. The majority of this is phased out over time of living together under one household. A cat may still not approve of the dog, but that doesn’t mean there is hate. Cats just simply aren’t pack animals. They can form bonds with other cats and dogs as well but if it came down to survival, they will choose themselves first where a dog would think of what is best for the pack. With no reason to fear the loss of food or shelter, both animals can happily coexist with only minor miscommunication.