Dogs and cats do not have to be enemies; they can be the best of friends. They certainly don’t naturally hate each other. But each has instincts which can cause problems when they meet. Both are predators and love to chase things smaller than themselves, and unfortunately for cats, most dogs are bigger than they are. And being intelligent, most cats, seeing a big, hairy hound hurtling towards them at speed, will decide running is a sensible response.
However if the puppies and kittens are given plenty of chances to meet other friendly adult dogs or cats, there is every chance that they will get along well in the future. If you have a choice in the matter, pick a puppy or kitten that is used to living with the other species, or if you have no animal at the moment, consider getting a kitten first, so it is well established before getting the puppy. The added advantage of this arrangement is that the cat may well be bigger than the puppy, at least for a while, and the cat can teach it who really rules the house early on.
Sometimes though, this is not possible, because you already have existing pets, or perhaps you have adopted a dog and you don’t know how he is going to behave when he meets your cat, or the other way round. If this is the case, you’ll have to be very careful during the first meetings to keep both pets calm, or the cat may become frightened or injured and may never get along. If the dog is a known cat or squirrel chaser the chances of a successful introduction are low, so maybe this combination of pets should be reconsidered, or the owners will have to be prepared to keep the pets apart permanently. The idea is to get both animals bored with the presence of the other, i.e. the dog is not threatening and overly interested in the cat, and the cat is not frightened and likely to run.
The first rule: put the cat first.
Cats are smaller than dogs, and it is highly unlikely a cat would seriously injure a dog, However dogs can, and do, kill cats. Prey drive in dogs is partly controlled by breed, and although many people keep high prey drive dogs such as terriers and hounds with cats successfully, be prepared that these breeds may never accept a feline friend unless introduced at a very young age, they just can’t help themselves. The best breeds of dogs to live with cats are calmer types, which often include larger dogs, rather than smaller ones. Certain breeds of cats are also more tolerant of dogs than others, and are therefore less likely to set off chase instincts, for example British Shorthair, Persian, ragdoll and birmans.
If you’ve already got a cat and are bringing a new dog into your home, you really have to think about how this will affect your cat. It is the cat’s home and the cat has every right to feel safe there. If you know that your cat is very frightened of dogs or has had very bad experiences with
them in the past, then think very carefully before even getting a dog or bringing one into the
home. It is not fair to put your cat through so much stress, if you know that the cat cannot
cope with it. Sometimes in these circumstances even a scardy cat will accept a young puppy in time.
Second rule: prepare for the big day.
To ensure that the first meeting goes well, you may have to make some changes around your
house. These things should be done in the weeks leading up to bringing your new dog into the
home, so that your cat has chance to get used to them.
A major asset in introductions is having a dog crate, so both the animals can get used to seeing the other. A cat box can also help, but the dog must be supervised carefully while the cat is confined, so it doesn’t attack the box, scaring the cat.
For the cat:
Make sure that there will be places in your home where your cat can go but your dog
Cannot preferably warm and high up so your cat can feel safe and content. You may want to put up some shelving around the house so that your cat can travel around out of reach of your dog. The cat’s food and bedding can be placed on shelves or higher levels of furniture so that it can come into rooms where the dog is allowed, but feel happy and safe.
Get a dog crate, so the cat can investigate the dog without risk. This also has the added advantage of knowing exactly where your dog is when you are not with it, i.e. protecting your furniture ( as well as your cat) from bored teeth.
You could also add a baby gate to your stairs so the dog can’t follow the cat upstairs. You may also want to put the litter tray, food and water upstairs, so the cat doesn’t have to run the gauntlet of the dog.
Make sure that your cat always has a clear escape route from any area that it may come face to face with the dog just in case.
Try to get some bedding that the new dog has used before bringing it home. Leave it in places where the cat can sniff it, so that it can get used to the strange smell.
For the dog:
If possible, spend some time with the dog before bringing him home to teach him some basic obedience commands. Make sure you find treats that he absolutely loves as this will make it easier to keep his attention when the cat is around. Find out how he reacts to cats if possible. If your dog is from a re-homing centre, they may be able to see if he/she is cat aggressive before you make a final decision.
Prepare somewhere that the dog can use as his sleeping area, which is not in a place that the cat has to use on a regular basis. For instance, don’t expect the dog to sleep in the kitchen if the cat has to pass through on its way to the cat flap. A crate for the dog at night is an excellent idea, at least for the first few weeks till you are secure with your new pets interactions with each other.
Remember that most dogs love cat food and will eat it if they can reach it so you may have to move it from its usual place, putting it on a shelf, or on top of your cat scratching post is an excellent idea. Unfortunately many dogs also love cat poo, so litter trays need to be out of sight and reach. For a dog, cat poo is appetising as cats digestive systems are quite inefficient, their meat diet means their poo is high in protein and can be considered a yummy snack for your dog. If your dog likes eating it, persuading it to stop will be like getting it to avoid a steak left on the floor. Not going to happen. So just make the litter tray inaccessible to the dog.
After a few days of allowing your new animal to settle and become relaxed, you can try introducing
the animals. Keep each animal separate from the other for the first few days, letting the existing pet get used to the smell and sound of the newcomer, and the newbie come to terms with their new environment. So swop scents by giving each animal the others blanket, and stoking each without washing your hands, thus making each animal aware that the other is part of the household.
The entire introduction procedure is designed to make each animal boring to the other, so always start by ensuring a relaxed atmosphere.
Before every meeting during the training period:
Do not have any games of chase or fetch with the dog at any time before the meeting (and
not again until you are happy that they are getting on), since this will encourage the dog’s
Make sure that your dog has had a nice, long, calm lead walk on the day of meeting. While the dog is out, let the cat have access to the ‘meeting room’ so it can scope out escape routes, so it will feel less threatened.
Feed your dog a really good breakfast in the morning and give him a few hours to digest
before feeding another small but tasty meal 30-40 minutes before he meets the cat.
Feed the cat too. Well fed animals are more relaxed and less likely to react than hungry ones!
Introducing the animals:
Get some really tasty treats that your dog really likes (e.g. pieces of cheese, chicken, hotdog). Have him on a long, lead and ask him to sit or lay down. Reward him with the treats as long as he is calm and relaxed. The lead is for safety reasons, rather than constant restraint, if you have to use it for constant restraint, the dog need to undergo more obedience training, and be more tired when you start the procedure. Do not rush this phase, both animals will remember a failure and make the whole process far longer, if it is at all possible.
Then allow the cat to enter the room. If your cat is happy being carried, it may be better if someone he/she likes can bring it in and sit down with her on their lap. If the cat wants to move away or jump up onto high surfaces let it.
Don’t encourage your dog to look at the cat or to meet it, instead continue to reward it for giving you its undivided attention for sits/downs in a calm relaxed manner. You are trying to instil the idea that the cat is not interesting, and the dog is not dangerous. If your dog looks to the cat but looks back to you when you call his name, immediately reward him with a treat, calm fuss and praise. If the dog concentrates on the cat, or tries to go towards it, use a loud ‘ack’ type noise to bring its focus back to you, if it does praise it extensively. The intent stare is the first stage in the chase/kill sequence of behaviours, so stop it before it goes further.
If the cat is calm the other person in the room can praise it, but don’t try to reward it with food, this may well be too much temptation for the dog!
If both animals seem calm and comfortable, allow your dog (still on the lead) to approach the cat. If safe, allow them to sniff each other and then gently move your dog away whilst praising and rewarding. Repeat this whole procedure again every day, until you are happy and confident that they will tolerate each other. This step may not be reached for quite a while, but keep going.
Keep the sessions short and keep him on the loose lead.
During the session, practice moving away from him and rewarding him for coming to you. However well it goes, do not get complacent and don’t leave the animals together unsupervised.
Remember that the main cause of problems between dogs and cats is that cats become frightened and run. The sight of a cat running makes most dogs very excited and they are likely to give chase. If by using this information you can get your cat to be relaxed around your dog so that it won’t run away when it sees him, there is every chance that they can happily live together in your home.
Unfortunately we must accept that in some cases a dog will not tolerate a cat being around (or vice versa) and we must resort to control and management of these situations i.e. keeping them safely apart.
Note: Although you may get your cat and dog to live nicely together within your house, your dog may still try to chase your cat if he sees it in the garden or out in the street. So make sure that the coast is clear and your cat is out of sight whenever you let your dog outside till you know how the dog will react in each situation. If the dog does try to chase the cat outside, you will need to repeat the introduction training as above in your garden.
Although your dog may be happy to accept your cat in time, remember that it is quite likely that it will chase any other cat that he/she sees.