Cats and dogs don’t have to be at each other’s throats all the time. Contrary to what cartoons have taught us, the two species can live in harmony. If you do your research before you throw them together, have a lot of patience, and you’re willing to put some work into it, then your cat and dog could have a great relationship. The idea that cats and dogs are natural enemies is because most people don’t bother to teach them how to live together. Left to their own devices, they probably will just chase and scratch. However, they can be taught how to co-exist. Since you’re already teaching them where and when to use the bathroom, surely teaching ‘play nice’ isn’t playing god with their naturalistic impulses?
Not all cats and dogs can live together. Sadly, some breeds just can’t overpower their natural urges. There are exceptions for individual dogs in these breeds. However, specifically choosing pets based on their ability to get on together is a much easier and safer option. There are a few reasons for this, but most of it just comes down to nature. A dog that has been trained to hunt or one with a high prey drive just won’t get on with smaller animals. They look too much like a tasty snack. Some cats are pre-disposed to fleeing. This will encourage worse behaviour from a dog. This could all collude to make your home a nightmare for you, your dog, and your cat.
Choosing The Right Dog
Rescue dogs can be problematic here. It’s a great thing to rescue a dog, but it’s risky when you have other pets. Most shelters are aware of this and will warn you. If you want a rescue dog, you should take some time to make sure that it will get along with a cat. It’s not the nicest thing to hear, but most rescues will come with so much of their own baggage that they can’t be taught how to get along with a cat. Some will have lived with other animals before, or have a temperament that’s not driven to hunt or chase. Make sure you check with the shelter if they don’t provide enough information.
Any dog with a high prey drive is also a non-starter. A dog that is predisposed to chase small animals will be considerably harder to train. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some dogs may come from a breed with a high prey-drive but have a lower prey drive themselves. Meeting the dog and the dog’s parents will help you decide if they’re suitable. Each dog is different, but it will be a lot more work to reform a natural hunter than a natural sleeper.
Choosing The Right Cat
Choice of cat is just as important. As with dogs, you’ll have a harder job with an adult cat than a kitten. An adult cat that previously lived with a dog is a good option. If they’ve never learnt how then you’ll struggle to get them to understand a dog’s behaviour. If a cat with experience of dogs is too hard to find, then there are clues in their temperament you can use to keep luck on your side.
A cat with a more relaxed nature than others would be the best starting point. One with a chilled out personality. This has all sorts of benefits in a cat, but it’s particularly important for teaching it to co-exist with a strange erratic animal like a dog. A cat with a low flight tendency would also make this easier. They would be less inclined to flee at the first feeling of fright. A cat that’s capable of calmly standing its ground, without becoming aggressive would perfectly compliment even the most over-friendly dog. With enough care taken in choosing the animals, you can get cats and dogs to live together.
It’s not always possible, but the best way to help cats and dogs get along is to raise them together from a young age. The general house-rules and house-breaking that your kitten and puppy will receive will include proper behaviour around each other. Good habits are taught at a young age. Surprisingly, it will also help them talk to each other.
Well, not actually talk. It’s a nice fantasy that animals can understand and chat with each other, but once again reality is less entertaining. However, animals can communicate with others in different ways. In the case of cats and dogs, you can teach them to communicate in a small way. This doesn’t mean understanding each other’s noises as if they were speaking, but reading body language and behaviour. This will help them differentiate between play and threats, similarly to how puppies and kittens will communicate with their siblings.
Your puppy and kitten won’t naturally understand each other as they would their brothers and sisters. However, with enough socialisation before the age of 9 weeks old, they can learn each others body language to a degree that will help them get along. This will help prevent playing becoming fighting, and either getting hurt.
Cat Meet Dog, Dog Meet Cat
All early interactions between cats and dogs should be supervised. This might be a time commitment, but it’s one you have to make. Your house should be set up to give the cat some safe spaces if it needs to flee. Providing dog-free areas for your cat will help it feel more comfortable around the dog. An escape route will provide a sense of security. A calmer puppy will also help the cat feel safe, it would be less inclined to chase or annoy its new friend. If the puppy is old enough to go for walks, a long walk would get them in the right mood for early interactions. A big play session should wear out puppies too young for a walk. If the puppy is more interested in sleeping than sniffing the weird looking furry thing, the cat will have more time to get used to this arrangement.
A puppy can hurt a kitten by playing too rough, and a kitten has really sharp claws. You probably know if you’ve had a cat, they are seriously sharp and they aren’t afraid of using them. This is why you should supervise all interactions for quite a while. A small misunderstanding between the two could be very painful for either of them. You should be supervising play until you’re entirely confident that the two are comfortable and calm enough together to be left alone.
It’s A Marathon Not A Sprint
You shouldn’t worry if an early attempt at introducing the two pets doesn’t go to plan. Just separate them and try again in a few hours or the next day. The kitten will have time to calm down and feel safe again. The puppy will also eventually get over the excitement.
There are other small things you can do to help the process. Smell is very important to both cats and dogs. To make sure they’re comfortable with each other’s scents, swapping around their bedding before they meet can help. A cat probably won’t like the scent of a dog initially, even if the dog has spent its afternoon rolling in cat mess to get ready for it. Similarly, dogs are often baffled by cats not particularly wanting to be smelled up close and personal. Introducing the smell to each pet before the meeting will help them get over the initial shock, terror, or excitement of finding they share their home with another animal.
Keeping The Peace
There are further things you can do to keep good relations between cats and dogs. A simple one is feeding. Most dogs like the smell of cat food, so you should feed the cat somewhere that the dog doesn’t have access to. This will prevent issues of food aggression with both of them. Cats also tend to prefer to use the litter tray in private. No one wants to watch that, and the cat doesn’t want to be watched. This should also be away from the dog’s reach. A lot of dogs find the smell of what’s been left in that litter tray fascinating and enticing! Don’t give them the chance. It will upset the cat and you don’t want to be smelling that on the dog’s breath for weeks.
Until you’re confident that the dog and cat are getting along great, don’t leave them alone together unsupervised. Ensure that your cat has plenty of high spots to avoid the dog and a route to a dog-less environment. Even when they’re used to being together, you should keep this option of avoidance there for your cat.
If you’ve picked compatible pets and done plenty of early socialisation, then you’re on the best possible footing for a good relationship between the two animals. If you continue to work at keeping their relationship working, then you should have two friendly and calm animals eventually. They are very different animals, and tolerating but avoiding each other might be the best you’ll get out of a pair of cats and dogs. This is fine. Equally, they might be best friends. In any case, you should be able to achieve a calm positive environment for both your pets.