Coronavirus: Rescue centres' homing procedures may be changed or limited at this time. To ask about adopting, please contact them via phone or email. More Info & how you can help

Cats & Dogs Living Together?

7 Top Tips to help cats & dogs live in harmony.

Many cats and dogs can happily live in the same home. It’s important however, to properly manage their introductions, as negative experiences can sour the future relationship...

cat and dog living together

Here are seven tips for introducing and caring for canine and feline friends in the same household.

1. Never Rush the Process

The biggest mistake you can make when introducing a cat and dog is expecting too much, too soon.

Regardless of whether the cat or dog is the existing member of your household, having a new animal in the house is stressful. The newly adopted family member is also likely to be anxious and stressed about his new environment.

To avoid a negative interaction that could make future introductions more difficult, keep the cat and dog separate for at least a few days.

It’s best if the animals can’t see each other. You should “scent swap,” however, by swapping bedding and spending time with both animals while wearing the same clothes. This gets both pets used to the idea that there is another animal in the house.

Dog & Cat facing each other2. Prepare for a Safe Introduction

After a few days of separation, you can start to bring your pets into closer proximity. Stair gates or pet gates are useful during this process, as they allow you to keep the dog confined whilst still being able to see the cat.

This is a good time to check there are high locations in the home for your cat. It’s important for the cat to have the option of “escaping” the dog if things become too stressful.

The key is to ensure your dog and cat remain as calm as possible. If your dog is excited to see the cat through the gate, try to use treats and games to keep him distracted. This reduces tension and starts to create positive associations in the dog’s mind.

You can also use a stair gate or barrier to judge your pet’s reaction to each other. If your dog is highly excitable when he sees the cat, for example, then you’ll know he needs more desensitization training before the introduction.

3. Carefully Manage the First Introductions

  • When you first introduce your dog and cat, the goal is to keep things as relaxed as possible. Here’s an overview of the process:
  • Choose a meeting room where your cat can escape if he feels uncomfortable. Gather some high value treats for your dog and, ideally, give him a walk beforehand so he’s relaxed.
  • Put the dog on a leash, then allow your cat and dog to watch each other through a gate. Praise and give treats to your dog for calm behaviour.
  • If your cat has approached and your dog seems calm, open the gate and allow the dog to sniff the cat for a short period while keeping the leash slack. If the cat seems comfortable with the dog’s attention, allow the introduction to continue. If one or both animals is stressed or reactive, calmly put them in separate rooms. Don’t shout or scold the dog, as this can create additional negative associations.
  • Assuming the introduction is going well, call the dog over and give a treat, making sure to keep things calm. Then allow him to go back to interacting with the cat. Repeat this several times to build up positive associations.
  • When it’s time to end the introduction, take the dog into another room and shut the door. Give a tasty treat to end on a positive association.

Keep the introduction short. Individual sessions should be no more than a few minutes long, but repeated several times each day. Always be ready to grab the leash, as you never know when a quick movement from either pet could trigger a chase or over-excited play.

Note: Never let your dog chase the cat. If your dog has a strong chase instinct, you’ll need to keep them on a tighter leash until they realise that the cat isn’t for chasing. It’s also important to be aware that it’s not only the cat at risk – a swipe to the face can cause serious injuries to a dog.

Dog and Cat friends4. Take a Step Back if Necessary

Some dogs and cats naturally seem to get along. After a few sessions of the above introduction method, these animals are likely to ignore each other most of the time.

This isn’t always the case though. If initial introductions caused stress or reactivity, continue to separate the animals while scent swapping, then try again the next day. Over time, you should see improvement in your dog’s excitement and cat’s confidence, as long as you are patient and don’t rush the process.

If the introductions don’t improve, or you fear for the safety of one of the animals, it’s important to seek professional help. While there are always likely to be a few issues when introducing a cat and dog, negative interactions can make future training more difficult.

It’s also important to realise that some dogs may never be safe to leave unattended around cats, often due to poor socialization as a puppy. This is less common than many people think though.

5. Keep Food Bowls Separate

It’s unrealistic to expect a dog to ignore a bowl of cat food. While you might be able to teach a dog not to eat the food when you’re around, the temptation will be too great if he has continuous access to the cat’s meal.

Instead of training, it’s much easier to keep your cat’s food in a separate room that your dog can’t access.

You should also be careful that your cat isn’t nearby when giving your dog food. Many dogs are naturally defensive when they feel their food is being threatened.

Cat & Dog relaxing6. Be Extra Careful with Kittens

Kittens tend to be more playful than adult cats, which can unnerve some dogs. They are also small enough to fit through stair gates and more vulnerable if the introduction goes wrong.

For these reasons, you need to be extra careful when introducing kittens to a dog. It is advisable to keep dogs on a leash or harness whilst around kittens until they are completely used to each other.

7. Be Wary About Leaving Your Cat and Dog Unattended

Just because your dog and cat seem to get on during supervised introductions doesn’t mean they are ready to interact freely in the house. It’s important to gradually increase the animal’s interactions to avoid any problems.

Once your pets seem comfortable in the same room, you can allow them a bit more freedom, while keeping your dog on a longer leash. Over time, you can remove the leash, but still ensure you’re able to intervene if necessary.

It can take weeks or even months to be comfortable leaving your cat and dog unattended.

Summary

Many dogs and cats can happily live together. It’s essential for these animals to be slowly and properly introduced, however, as bad experiences can ruin the relationship, and may even be dangerous.

Remember, all cats and dogs have unique personalities. Make sure you move forward at a pace that’s suitable for both animals, rather than rushing the process.

Contributor: Richard Cross, Editor of TheDogClinic.com
Published: February 2020