Can dogs and cats get along?

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Let’s face it: getting along with one another is tough. We’ve all seen it: cats fighting dogs, cats fighting humans, cats fighting other cats. All of this disrupts the peace of the household. The Perfect Paws Web site describes dogs as social creatures and cats as independent, solitary creatures.¹

However, cats do tend to live in groups. In observing my own animal family (two cats and two dogs), I have seen that this is true! The obstacle to the animals’ getting along lies in the two animals’ dispositions. Understanding each animal’s needs and instincts—and working within them—will allow for a more respectful relationship between cats and dogs.

Introducing a cat and a dog to each other takes gentleness and patience on the part of the owner. Most dogs and cats will take a few days to become acquainted with one another’s scents. The owner can facilitate this process by placing the cat in the dog’s area, making sure the dog is elsewhere. The cat can then sniff around the room, undisturbed, to familiarize itself with a prospective roommate. For the same purpose, place the dog in the cat’s area while the cat is away. After several opportunities to become accustomed to each other’s scent, invite the two animals into the same area.

The first encounter is an important one; setting up the right conditions will result in a more peaceable future for the animals. It’s a good idea to exercise your dog to get him tired prior to this first meeting and to trim your cat’s nails. Praise your dog; give him treats for being a good dog. Redirect him at the slightest sign of his intent to lunge at the cat. Correct his behavior with a positive approach or vocal tone so that the association is a pleasant one. Show your cat an escape route or safe place to hide, preferably up high, out of the dog’s reach. Praise your cat’s good behavior too. It only takes a second for a bad experience to occur, so watch for signs of stress, and separate the animals before an incident starts.

Supervision is needed when placing your cat and dog in the same room together for the first time. Let them see and smell each other for a few minutes, and then separate them from each other. Your cat might hiss and bat at your dog to set distance boundaries. Watch your two pets interact as you increase their time spent together.

Allow this to happen naturally, but watch for excessive signs of stress in both animals. A little stress is good. Hair will stand up, and cats will arch their back, turning sideways (both animals instinctively make themselves bigger). The animals’ eyes will dilate with excitement, and they will stare intently. The tail is a good indicator of whether the meeting is going well (tail up means assertive, tail between legs means afraid, tail in neutral position means relaxed). Dogs tend to become aggressive and exhibit predatory behavior when they are highly excited or stressed. Cats tend to mark their territory with urine, excessively groom themselves, hide, or display aggressive behavior.²

Your dog and cat need to make friends with each other on their own with as little intervention as possible from you. In this fashion, they will learn to respect each other. Watch them play. The dog will jump around and perform a play bow (elbows on the ground and back legs up). Cats will pounce and box. This play should be done in a gentle manner and equally by both players. If for any reason it doesn’t feel right, end the session, and try again later.

Keep in mind the animals’ dispositions and personalities. Some animals have a strong prey drive, some will tolerate each other, and some will become best buds! I can’t stress enough the importance of a slow transition and of lengthening the time of supervised visits until you can finally leave the animals alone together.

Either way, you can help your family pets build a relationship that results in household harmony.

References:
1. http://www.perfectpaws.com/help2.html
2. http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet behavior/introducing-your-cat-new-dog

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About The Author

Lynn Albrow

Lynn Albrow has two dogs, both Canine Good Citizens and (TDI) Therapy Dog International certified: Lola, a Mcnab (Border Collie Cattle dog mix) and Cole, a Border Lab. Lynn’s passion in training got started when in obedience class with Lola. She currently participates in Agility trials. Her dogs volunteer at one of the local retirement communities where Lola usually puts on a show and Cole has a more relax and soothing approach for therapy.

3 Comments

  • Jean Cote

    Jean Cote

    Reply Reply February 27, 2015

    Great article Lynn. Both of my dogs were raised with the presence of cats in the household or by going places where they could be socialized with cats present. I would imagine this is an important aspect of upbringing, and probably best to introduce them at an early age rather than later in life.

  • Carissa

    Reply Reply February 27, 2015

    Hi I’m Carissa and I agree it was a great article. I’m a former cat and dog owner. My first Cat who was 11yrs old at the time and met my 3 month pup spanky was able to live along side my dog , but wAsn’t social at all with my him. My other cat who I brought home As a kitten loved my dog and being a dog sitter my cat learned to trust and socialize with all types of dog breeds and he loved it. And as for my pup even though he lived with my older cat who wasn’t social, still took to my kitten very well and took him under his wing.. I feel with love and patients you can definitely have a wonderful life with cats and dogs living under the same roof.

  • Lynn

    Reply Reply February 27, 2015

    Jean, Funny thing is my cat Trouble (yes that is his name) set up boundaries when he met my dog . She respected that. They never got too close. While my other cat was a lush for love. The two of them were seen sleeping together! Yes I agree. It is best to introduce your animals when they are young to give them the best chance for a positive relationship.

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