By Stacia Friedman
Can cats get along with dogs? The answer is simply yes, says Dr. Liz Bales, a Philadelphia veterinarian. As long as pet parents take their time and follow a few simple rules for introducing cats to dogs, there’s no reason why felines and canines can’t develop a harmonious relationship.
Keep Them Separated
If you are bringing a new dog or cat into your home, it’s important that the pet gets adjusted to a new space without the added stress of additional animals right away. In this instance, Bales suggests keeping the cat in a separate environment with plenty of stimulation for several days.
A closed bedroom or large bathroom decked out with scratching posts, toys, food, water and the litter box is the perfect option for a new cat. Be sure to also give him a lot of attention during this time. If you’re bringing home a new dog, consider keeping your existing cat in a separate portion of the house and follow crate-training protocol with the dog.
Bales suggests placing some of each animal’s personal items—like beds—in the other animal’s space during this time period so that the cat and the dog become accustomed to each other’s scents. You can repeat this process until it’s no longer stressful for both animals. Once your cat is calm, eating well, and using the litter box consistently, it’s time to make the introductions.
Keep the First Meeting Quick
When you are ready to introduce your cat to your dog, make the initial meeting a quick one—approximately ten minutes. Keep the dog on a leash and allow the cat to roam around and venture as close to the dog as he or she wishes. Use a head collar (halter) on your dog if there is a chance that you may not be in complete control of the situation. Reward your dog with treats and praise for calm behavior around the cat.
As long as the process is going smoothly, gradually increase the time the animals spend together. Once you feel comfortable, allow your dog to also move around freely, but keep his or her leash attached so that you can quickly regain control if needed. Be patient—it may take weeks or even months for cats and dogs to finally accept each other and be comfortable.
Consider Your Pet’s Personality
Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board certified veterinary behaviorist in West Palm Beach, Florida, says that your cat or dog’s personality is a good predictor of his or her ability to get along with another pet.
“If your cat has lived with dogs previously and is confident around other animals, you are likely to have an easy transition,” she said. “However, if your cat puffs up, hisses, or runs from other animals, you will have a more difficult time.”
Dr. Radosta also says to consider your dog’s personality. “Is he playful but not aggressive? Dogs with this temperament will more easily adapt to a cat. The dog who is lunging, growling, and difficult to control may never be safe with your cat. If this is the case, consult your veterinarian.”
If your cat is the confident type and your dog is the easygoing type, it is best to let your cat handle things. Even then, however, the meeting should not be free-for-all. “Put your cat on a higher surface than the dog and put your dog on the leash for the meeting,” Dr. Radosta said.
Supervision is Key
Keep your cat and dog separated when you cannot directly supervise them until you are fully confident that they present no risk, Dr. Radosta said. The safest way to do this is to keep your dog in a crate.
“Even a dog who simply wants to play can seriously or fatally injure a cat,” she said. “Dogs can jump over or bust through baby gates leaving cats in a dangerous situation.”
Likewise, you’ll want to provide your cat with a safe place where he or she can escape the dog. This could be a cat tree that the dog cannot climb or a separate room with a cat door installed. “Once cats run, dogs chase. It is very important to prevent this at all costs,” Dr. Radosta said.
Brush Up on Your Dog’s Skills
In order to help your cat feel safe, your dog has to be under control. He will need to know basic commands such as “leave it,” “sit,” and “stay.” Before the first introduction, make sure to spend time practicing commands with your dog and keep treats handy so that you can reward your dog for good behavior. “When your dog sees the cat, ask him to sit and reward him,” Dr. Radosta said.
If the only thing your dog has to do is chase your cat, chasing your cat is going to be his favorite activity.
“Keep your dog very well exercised and busy by using food toys and rotating his toys so that he is constantly occupied,” she said. “You can even reserve these fun activities for times when your cat is loose in the house.”
Long walks and daily exercise can also help your dog burn off energy—making meetings with the family cat less crazy.
You never know which pet is going to be the leader of the pack, but taking the steps to properly introduce a cat to a dog—and practicing patience—will help things run smoothly in your blended-pet household.