The thought of cats and dogs living together almost immediately elicits comic images of a “dog chasing cat” scenario. Although we have all seen the cartoons for decades, that isn’t necessarily the true nature of the relationship. According to the American Kennel Club’s 21st Century Dog Owners Study, 38% of dog owners also own cats. Despite being known for their differences, cats and dogs actually have quite a few similarities. They both mark and defend their territory and are natural predators. Cats and dogs can, however, coexist peacefully.
If a puppy and a kitten grow up together, the chances of them getting along are much higher than if they are introduced to one another at different life stages. Growing and maturing together teaches them to automatically accept the other, and live peacefully in the same household since neither of them knows it to be any different. They will learn to respect each other immediately and will most likely become the best of friends!
If getting a puppy and a kitten at the same time is not an option, don’t fret! Pets can still learn to coexist with one another. The initial introduction process must always be under supervision and should be very gradual so as to minimize the initial fear of each other as well as place less stress on each animal.
A good place to start is to confine the current pet, and allow the new one to wander the house at will. This procedure introduces a new scent throughout the house. Then confine the new pet, and allow the current one to then wander to get used to the different scent in the house. Alternate turns, letting the one pet get used to the scent of the other. This will help train the original pet to accept the new pet as a part of the household.
Once this has been done, try confining the dog behind a fence or a baby gate (cats would simply jump over the confining gate) so that the two can approach and sniff each other as they wish. If they choose not to get too close to each other, do not force the issue.
A cat will simply find a place to hide if it feels threatened. The cat’s food and litter area should not be accessible by the dog. This must be an area that the cat feels safe to use without disturbance.
To prepare the dog for the cat, obedience training is critical since the dog is usually larger and stronger. Properly train the dog to learn basic commands and consider enrolling him in a training course like the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. If the cat happens to take the dominant role, the dog will quickly learn to avoid it.
Socialize both the cat and dog to things such as loud noises, guests and common household activities so they are less skittish around each other and are used to sudden movements and noises.
When the dog and cat feel comfortable with each other, they will make approaches to one another. This should always be supervised to begin with, and it’s best that the dog be on a leash or held by the collar to maintain a certain distance between the two. Pay close attention to body language of both the dog and the cat. If the cat is feeling threatened or scared, it will growl or hiss, swish its tail and possibly raise the fur on its back. A dog will growl or snarl, and may raise the hair on its back or neck. If one of the animals seems overly frightened, take them both out of the situation and try again later.
Make sure that cats and dogs have plenty of time to become accustomed to each other. Never leave a dog and cat together unsupervised unless certain they are comfortable with each other and will coexist peacefully. Respect each animal’s desire to be alone.
If there is already an adult cat in the household, it may be easier for the cat to accept a more mature dog, since a puppy’s energetic antics could be overwhelming for the cat. Be sure to ask the breeder if the dog has shown a prey drive toward smaller animals such as cats, birds or other dogs; some breeds have a stronger prey drive than others. Think carefully about getting more than one dog since multiple dogs are more likely to gang up on and harass a cat. Ultimately, it may take a lot of time and training for cats and dogs to coexist peacefully. While they can certainly coexist, adequate research and consideration should be done prior to making the decision to add another pet to a household