Despite the cliché about fighting like cats and dogs, it’s perfectly possible for the two species to live happily under one roof.
However, it’s also perfectly possible for a cat to injure a dog, and for a dog to seriously hurt a cat.
To keep your home a peaceable kingdom, you’ll want to arm yourself with some know-how before you add a new four-legged resident.
Picking Your New Pet
Your best shot at pet togetherness is to get your cat and dog when they’re both young. Kittens and puppies who grow up together are much more likely to get along, and they can even become close buddies.
That said, if you’ve got an adult pet, it’s still possible to find a dog or cat who will coexist with them. But before you dive into the search and fall in love with a dog who will turn your home into a battle zone, there are some things you should keep in mind.
If you’ve already got an adult cat, it’s better to get an adult dog than a puppy. That puppy exuberance that we find so charming is annoying and stressful to cats. Look for a grown-up dog with a track record of living peacefully with felines.
Definitely avoid any dog with a high prey drive–the tendency to chase and sometimes kill smaller animals. Some dogs just aren’t suited to living with cats. If your potential new dog fixates on and stalks cats, squirrels, or smaller dogs, they’ve got a high prey drive. It’s difficult to train such a dog to ignore their instincts.
If you’re adopting, tell the shelter or rescue group that you’ve got another animal at home. They should be happy to give your pet a trial run with a shelter dog to see how they react.
Something else to keep in mind as you’re thinking about a new pet: many dogs love to chase cats but have no intention of harming them. Still, being chased and cornered by a dog is stressful for cats, so consider your kitty’s peace of mind, as well as safety.
Before You Bring Your New Pet Home
You can ease the introduction between your new dog and resident cat if you do some advanced preparation. Here are two steps you should take before your new dog sets paw in your home.
1. Make sure your cat can escape if they need to.
Cats are more likely to be hurt by dogs than vice versa, so make sure your cat has spots throughout the house—perches, shelves, kitty condos, and so on—to leap out of harm’s way.
You’ll also want to create areas where the cat can get a good distance away from the dog. You can block off rooms with baby gates, so long as your dog can’t jump over them, or install cat doors that will let your cat escape outside or into another room.
If you already have a cat and are preparing to bring a new dog home, get your kitty acquainted with these escape routes and hiding places in advance. Lure them through the cat door, over a gate, or onto a safety perch with the help of a food treat.
2. Set up the cat’s belongings where the dog can’t get to them.
Move the cat’s food, water, toys, and litter box to an area the dog can’t reach. The idea is to allow the cat to do whatever they need to do without having to go near the dog; that way, they can explore the new pooch and enter their territory at their own speed.
Do any rearranging of your kitty’s set-up a few weeks before you bring a new dog home so they have time to get used to it. A new member of the household will be taxing enough for your cat, and having all their things moved at the same time will make it that much harder.
Making The Dog-Cat Introduction
The key is to go as slowly as it takes to keep fear and aggression at a minimum. It’s likely that you’ll see some of both, but if you’re careful, you can stop it before it snowballs.
Keep going over each step until it’s old hat to both animals, and if either becomes frightened or overly excited, just go back to the previous step and keep practicing until they feel calm again. This process may take days, or it may take months.
Here are some steps you should take:
1. Get them used to each other’s scent.
Rub a cloth on each pet and put it in the other’s hang-out spot–on the dog bed, under the cat’s food dish, on your lap. You may have to refresh the cloth with the animal’s scent several times.
Keep it up until neither one seems overly excited or distressed by the other’s smell–barking and whining in your dog and a swishing tail in your cat are signs they need more time.
2. Let them investigate each other’s living areas.
While the cat’s outside or elsewhere in the house, bring the dog in to sniff around kitty’s lair, and vice versa. This way, they can explore the other’s territory and scent without a direct face-off.
3. Introduce them through a door or baby gate.
Bring the dog and cat on opposite sides of a closed door or baby gate, with a person on both sides. Don’t restrain your cat at all; feeling like they can’t get away may frighten them.
Let the animals sniff under the door or through the gate, but if your cat doesn’t want to get too close, don’t force them. Lavish them both with praise, attention, and treats. You want them to think that good things happen when the other pet is around.
Ask the dog to sit, lie down, and perform any other commands they know, praising and rewarding them whenever they focuses on you and not the cat.
Keep practicing this step until the cat doesn’t seem frightened and the dog doesn’t seem overly excited.
4. Introduce them with the dog on leash.
Again, don’t restrain the cat. They may panic if they feel like they can’t escape this new, scary creature. Keep the dog on leash so you can stop them if they try to give chase.
Again, ask the dog to obey some commands, rewarding them for focusing on you rather than on the cat.
Some cats will hiss and swipe at a curious or obnoxious dog to warn him, “Back off!” That’s actually a better response than running away, which often triggers the dog to take off after them.
If the cat flees and your dog starts to chase, grab the leash, firmly tell your dog, “No” or “Leave it,” and ask them to sit. If they return their attention to you, give them a food reward—a really tasty one—for their restraint.
Once your dog and cat seem fairly comfortable in each other’s company, you can let them roam around together when you’re home. But to keep the peace, it’s wise to separate them in different areas of the house when you go out until you’re very, very sure they’ll get along.
Some experts recommend making this a permanent policy to keep all the pets safe.
Many dogs and cats can coexist peacefully, but you’ll keep everyone safe and make life much less stressful if you plan carefully when looking for a new pet, and introduce the newcomer slowly and carefully.
Have you ever introduced a new dog to your cat? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below!