It’s a myth that dogs and cats are mortal enemies. This terrible injustice of the truth may have been perpetuated by the cartoon industry or pet owners of yesteryear that didn’t perhaps have the time or inclination to help the two species become the best of furry pals.
Today, more and more pet parents are enjoying the company of both a dog and a cat under the same roof. Think it’s impossible or just for a few folks who “lucked out?” Canines and felines can be friends, it just takes the right introductions, a lot of patience and some know-how.
Whether you are introducing a dog to a cat or visa-versa, considering each animal’s individual personality is the first place to start. For example if you have a laid-back feline, you will not want to bring in a high energy dog such as a Border Collie. In addition, there are certain breeds of dogs that are notorious for chasing cats ie the Jack Russell Terrier. Now, this isn’t to say that these breeds can’t learn to live with a cat, but it’s definitely something to consider before you adopt.
Experts also recommend bringing in a pet that already has experience with the opposite species. Although, the cat or dog won’t be familiar with your current companion, the fact that it has once met or even lived with the species is a giant leap in the right direction of co-compatiblity.
How to Introduce a cat and a dog
The introduction process from one species to another, regardless of which animal is the resident pet, is going to take time and patience. Here are some important steps to follow when making the crucial initial introduction.
Tip: It is never a good idea to bring a dog or a cat into an animal shelter to see how they will react. This location is extremely stressful on an animal and you may not get a true read on the situation. In addition, as well as these places are kept, disease can still occur where animals are kept in close quarters.
Step 1 – Separate Rooms Please
After you have chosen an appropriate cat or dog for your resident pet, you will want to start off by keeping them in separate rooms. Pick an area in your home where you can set up a litter box, food and water for your new cat. If you are bringing a new canine companion home, you will want to have a room or an area appropriate for the dog with food, water, toys and a blanket or pet bed.
Both the pets will know the other is there by their scents. Over the span of a few days, each animal should be given their turn investigating the home without the presence of the other pet. Give them around 35 to 45 minutes to thoroughly investigate where the other animal has been. This gives your new pet the opportunity to scent the other animal in a safe and relaxed manner.
Tip: If you have brought in a new cat, have someone take your pooch for a walk while the cat is allowed to roam free. Also be aware that some dogs like to eat cat feces, so keep an eye out when your pooch is around the litter box until you know if you have a “fecal-muncher” on your hands.
If your dog obsessively digs or barks at the barrier door, gently divert his attention with a treat or a toy. The key here is to get your dog used to the idea of the new cat, without viewing it has a threat or as an interloper. If this behavior goes on for more than a few days, you may have to seek professional training for your canine companion.
Once your dog is calm and not obsessed with his new house-mate and the cat is relaxed (eating, using the litter box and not constantly hiding) proceed to the next step.
Tip: Feeding both animals at the same time on their own side of the barrier or door is also a good way to help the two associate each other in a positive manner.
Step 2 – Leashes and Crates Only…For Now
For this next step, you will need to keep your dog on a short leash and perhaps your cat in a crate (if she is highly skittish) if not, give your cat the freedom to walk around. Allow both animals to be in the same room at the same time, making sure your dog is secured on a leash. Be ready with plenty of praise and rewards for good behavior.
Note: Your cat’s initial reaction may be to hiss and/or run. This is perfectly normal. However, if there is any serious aggression on the cat or dog’s part, go back to step one and give them more time in their safe room or area.
Gradually give your dog more room (as long as he’s not lunging or trying to bolt after the cat). If he does exhibit this inappropriate reaction, correct him by shortening his lead and giving him the “sit” or “leave it” commands. Reward for a job well done. However, you may have to cut the visit short if Fido can’t be calmed down and try again later.
This type of introduction needs to go on as long as the cat and dog are still nervous around each other or are still showing aggression or over-exuberant behavior.
When can you move forward? When both animals are relaxed, are eating and are fine in each other’s presence. Don’t move forward until both pets have shown good behavior in each other’s company for several consecutive days.
Tip: When no one is home, the cat and dog should be secured away from each other to keep them safe.
Step 3 – Unsupervised Interactions
For this final step, you will still want to keep your dog on a leash (at least initially). Proceed with caution and quickness by grabbing the leash and restraining his actions if your dog decides to immediately go after your cat
Don’t be worried if your cat’s initial reaction is to swat your dog on the nose, even if Fido is behaving. Cat’s show their dominance with this reaction and sometimes this is all it takes for your canine to have “respect” for your cat.
As the interaction goes on, be sure to remain calm and speak in soft tones, using both the pet’s names to help diffuse any situation that may arise. Remember to give out lots of praise and treats for good behaviour.
This step may take some time to get to (month or more) depending on the individual animals.
Tip: Only move to this final phase when you are positive your furry companions are relaxed in each others company; there’s no hissing, growling, chasing, biting etc. Even so, be sure to keep an eye on them and don’t leave the two unsupervised until you are absolutely positive they are fast friends.
Extra Tips and Hints
Here are some additional tips and hints that will help the process of cats and dogs becoming future bff’s.
● Always use positive reinforcement when it comes to teaching your dog to behave around a cat.
● It is helpful to have your dog know the basic commands of “sit, stay, come and release/drop.”
● Never let your dog and cat eat each other’s food. Cat food is high in fat and will create weight gain in your dog. Cats cannot get their full nutritional value in dog food as it lacks taurine which is paramount for a cat’s eye and tooth health..
● Be more aware when bringing a kitten into a home with a large or energetic canine. Even a well-intentioned pooch can seriously injure a kitten in play, so be sure to follow the introduction steps or adopt an older feline.
● Even after the two pets are getting along, always be sure there is a safe place in every room where your cat can retreat to. Whether this is a higher-up ledge, scratch post or even under a low bed, your cat needs a secure location in case Fido is getting too rambunctious.
● Swapping their bedding is a good way to allow both your pets the freedom to get to know the other’s scent in a safe manner.
Is the Fur Still Flying?
Even if you’ve followed these steps to the letter, some dogs and cats may never get along. Unfortunately, if you find yourself in this situation, you may have to rehome or return the new dog or cat. It’s simply not fair to ask or expect the animals to get along and it is extremely stressful on them both.
When you decide to rehome, be sure to let potential pet parents know that the animal does not do well with the other species. In addition, never give an animal away for free unless you know the person taking the dog or cat. Oftentimes, unscrupulous people will look for free pets to sell to research facilities or use them for breeding purposes only.