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With a Little Work, Cats and Dogs Can Share a Home in Peace

Some simple steps to make the introductory process as smooth as possible.

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Are your dogs and cats fighting like, well, cats and dogs?

Sorry for that obvious reference, but there’s a reason that idiom exists: Dogs and cats really do fight and don’t always get along.

I adopted my cat Minnie when she was just a kitten, and she was the queen bee over five different dogs before she passed away in September at age 18. That’s not to say there weren’t some squabbles, and she was chased her fair share of times.

By the time my current dog, Blue, came into the house seven years ago, she was a grizzled veteran and cranky to boot. She had no patience for shenanigans, but luckily she needed just a few hisses and paw bats to show Blue who ruled the roost (of course it helps that Blue is pretty much afraid of everything, so it didn’t take much to be the boss in that relationship).

But not every relationship is that simple. We often have adopters come into our shelter asking if our dogs are OK with cats, and we can never answer with 100 percent certainty. It is your responsibility to take the proper steps to ensure a cordial and safe introduction and co-existence.

First, it’s important to know what to expect. If your dog has never lived with a cat before, he will most likely react in one of three ways:

  1. He’ll think the cat is just like another dog and will want to play with her. Even if your dog and cat seem to be responding well to each other, play should always be closely monitored. Keep in mind that, even in play, a dog can easily injure a cat if he plays by biting or chasing, and an angry cat’s claws can seriously injure a dog.
  2. He’ll perceive the cat as prey and chase her – especially if your cat runs from him.
  3. Your dog may be intimidated by your cat and will approach her cautiously or watch her from a distance.

Cats who have never lived with dogs may react in one of two ways:

  1. Your cat may be cautious or just avoid the dog, choosing instead to watch him from a distance or approach inquisitively.
  2. She may see the dog as an intruder and will react defensively.

Before the formal introduction, work with your dog on basic obedience skills, including sit, down, leave it, come and stay. These skills will help you control your dog if he gets excited around your cat.

Confine your dog to a room using a baby gate. Cats are much more environmentally driven than dogs, so don’t change her routine or environment any more than necessary. One way to get them used to each other’s scent is to switch their bedding so they can smell each other.

Start by introducing your cat and dog with the gate between them and your dog on a leash (have someone help hold the dog if needed). If your dog is rambunctious it might help to take him outside for play time or a run to burn off some energy. Sit in front of the gate and call your cat, and have your dog lie down or sit, praising both with treats. Do this several times a day for a couple of days to help your cat and dog associate each other with their favorite treats. If your dog gets too excited, redirect his attention by having him do a sit or down and reward him with treats.

Once you are comfortable – and your dog and cat seem comfortable around each other – you can move to a bigger room and ditch the baby gate. Always keep you dog on his leash, and make sure your cat has an escape route in case she gets frightened. Continue this for a few weeks until your dog and cat interact together in a calm, friendly manner. Signs that they are getting along well include your cat rubbing against your dog, and your dog gently nudging your cat.

Keep your cat and dog confined in separate areas when you’re not home or aren’t able to supervise them.

Dogs love to eat cat food, so be sure to keep your cat’s food out of the dog’s reach. I kept my cat’s food in my closet to keep Blue away. It’s also important to keep your cat’s litter box out of your dog’s reach. Not only can it be stressful for your cat, but some dogs think it’s fun to raid litter boxes … gross!

I was lucky that my cat was very dog-savvy and knew how to establish herself at the top of the hierarchy, but not all introductions go so smoothly. I hope I’ve been able to offer some insights on how to ensure a smooth transition for your new dog or cat. Happy Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month! 

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